For Arianny Martinez-Beltran, part of the first graduating class of the NYU Long Island School of Medicine, seeing doctors struggle to understand COVID-19 and find effective treatments underlined how she won't always be sure of how to help her patients.
"All the information you learn in the first year is so daunting, and then when COVID hits and you actually start practicing, you realize there’s so much more we don’t know than what we do know," she said.
The school opened next to NYU Langone Hospital – Long Island in Mineola in July 2019, and within months, COVID-19 transformed how the 20 graduating students learned, from remote-only classes early in the pandemic to students consulting with doctors to care for COVID-19 patients later on. Students learned about COVID-19 vaccines, treatment and epidemiology in their classes as studies and data emerged, and they helped with research.
On Friday, students at NYU Long Island, Stony Brook University and universities across the nation found out where they will spend their residencies, the three or more years of hospital training and experience they’ll receive after graduating May 17.
Martinez-Beltran, of Manhattan, beamed after opening her envelope and finding out she had been matched with NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan.
"It was my first choice," she said between hugs with classmates and faculty. "It's very overwhelming."
The NYU Long Island students are less likely to have the crushing debt that many counterparts at other U.S. medical schools face. NYU Long Island and the NYU Grossman School of Medicine in Manhattan are believed to be the two only U.S. medical schools that permanently waive tuition for all students, although a California school is doing so for five years, said Julie Fresne, senior director of student financial and career advising services at the Association of American Medical Colleges.
This academic year, NYU Long Island is beginning a need-based scholarship to help with, and in some cases entirely pay, housing, food and other costs, said Dr. Steven Shelov, the school’s dean.
"There are additional financial resources that we need to do that, which is why we have to go slowly with expansion," he said, referring to the initial plan to ramp up to a first-year class this academic year of 40 students.
The NYU Langone Health system pays for most tuition and scholarship costs, but the hope is to obtain more individual and other donations for long-term funding, Shelov said.
COVID-19 caused the first expansion delay. The tentative plan now is to expand to 28 first-year students by summer 2023, Shelov said. The current graduating class started with 24 students; four are delaying their graduation.
Competition to get into the school is fierce. The school attracted more than 4,000 applicants for 24 spots this year, Shelov said. The average Medical College Admission Test score of 517 is in the top 6% of scores, according to the medical-college association.
All but two of the 20 graduating students will go into primary-care residencies, Shelov said. The school was founded with a focus on primary care, amid a national shortage of primary care physicians.
Martinez-Beltran, who will specialize in pediatrics, said her previous work as a nurse helped inspire her to focus on primary care.
"One of the things I noticed in the emergency room is that the children who have primary care doctors tend to do better," said Martinez-Beltran, 36.
Kids without primary care pediatricians often came into the ER after a problem that could have been prevented or mitigated got worse, or their parents used the ER as a substitute for primary care, she said.
"I really want to help out with that and be in the outpatient, preventive side of medicine," she said.
Spenser Bivona, 26, who grew up in Northport, said he plans to focus on primary care of LGBTQ patients on Long Island. Friends from Long Island travel into New York City "to get the care they want," he said. "That’s putting a burden on patients.
"There’s a massive lack, especially on Long Island, for patients who are trans and gay, queer, having providers they can feel comfortable talking with," added Bivona, one of eight students who will do their residences at NYU Langone Hospital – Long Island.
He said COVID-19 made him "very proud" to be in medical school, as he saw physicians risk their own health to treat patients.
"It’s a mixture of ‘that’s scary’ but, at the same time, it’s a cool and admirable thing, the selfless acts of providers to help others," he said. "That’s kind of why I wanted to go into medicine."
Bivona helped monitor COVID-19 patients during his intensive-care rotation and discussed treatment options with doctors.
Juliet Kim, 25, who lives in Mineola, assisted in early COVID-19 research. Last spring, she was part of a medical team for children with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a COVID-19-related condition.
Kim, who will do a pediatric residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said that, with COVID-19, she saw how, "especially at the beginning, we really had no idea of what we were dealing with. We didn’t know how to treat patients."
It was "a humbling experience," she said.
Shelov said students "were really with the rest of us figuring this out as we went along." It was a real-time lesson that much in medicine is unclear or unknown, he said.
"Dealing with uncertainty is part of being a doctor," he said. "You never have all the answers."
What to know
- Students in the first graduating class of the NYU Long Island School of Medicine on Friday found out where they will spend their medical residencies, which is the additional training they’ll get after graduating in May.
- The school, which opened in July 2019, had planned to expand by now from 24 students in each class to 40 students, but first COVID-19, and now funding needed for scholarships, delayed the plan.
- The school is believed to be one of only two in the nation — along with the NYU medical school in Manhattan — to offer tuition-free education. The new scholarships help pay for food, housing, books and other costs.