Medical school student graduates early to help on the front lines of coronavirus pandemic

(WORCESTER, Mass.) — In a “normal” world, Fatoumata Nogoy Bah would be finishing her final year at University of Massachusetts Medical School, getting ready for family and friends to see her walk at graduation and preparing for an overseas trip before starting her residency in July.

Instead, Bah is working in a hospital on the front lines against the coronavirus pandemic.

The 26-year-old graduated from medical school more than a month early and volunteered to immediately start working as a medical doctor at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts.

“If you had told me a few months ago that this is what I’d be doing right now, I’d look at you like you were crazy,” Bah told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “This was just not what we had expected.”

Bah graduated from UMass Medical School on March 31 in a virtual graduation ceremony the university held on Zoom.

She started less than a week later at UMass Memorial Medical Center, getting a crash course in telemedicine, among other things, so that she could treat patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Massachusetts has seen more than 28,000 cases of novel coronavirus, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.

“I have a lot of health care providers in my family — my mom was still working at a nursing home and my sister was still working as a nurse in an emergency department. I felt like I was sitting on the sidelines watching them go in,” Bah said. “I really, really wanted to be a part of it, too.”

Bah works on the hospital’s COVID-19 floor, but is in an office where she communicates with patients by phone and video. Only one attending doctor is allowed physically on the floor in order to minimize the risk of spreading the virus, according to Bah.

“A lot of the times it’s a normal conversation that you’re having with a patient — they’re not feeling well, they’re pretty sick and they’re just telling you how they’re feeling,” she said of treating patients with COVID-19. “It’s just the novelty of the illness [that is different].”

“There’s so much unknown about it that a lot of time when they’re asking questions, there’s a lot that we don’t know,” Bah added. “It’s something that wasn’t covered before.”

Bah is also not directly in contact with COVID-19 patients because of her upcoming residency. Officials are trying to keep recent medical school graduates free of COVID-19 so there is no risk they spread it when they start their residencies.

In July, Bah will begin her residency in anesthesiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, located in New York City, a hot spot of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

“When I matched I was super excited. New York was my first choice,” she said. “I think now I’m a little bit more nervous because it seems like this could have a little bit more of a prolonged course, but I’m also excited because this is going to give me another opportunity to work on [these] skills.”

Bah is currently living with her mother and sister as all three work in the health care industry. She said despite working about five shifts a week on the COVID-19 floor of a major hospital, it is only when she is at home that she starts to feel the weight of what she and her healthcare colleagues are taking on.

“In the hospital, everyone else is so calm and it just feels like we’re doing what we should be doing,” she said. “It’s not until I sit at home and I’m watching the news and I’m like, ‘Wow, this feels so much more real."”

Despite stepping directly from medical school into a global health pandemic, Bah said she has no doubt her decision to help was the right one.

“I feel like I’m finding my purpose and I’m able to help in whatever ways that I can,” she said. “If I had chosen to just stay home, I would have been sitting back still thinking, ‘What can I do, what can I do?"”

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