We Should Forgive Student Loans For Doctors Risking Their Lives To Fight Coronavirus

Kate Schertz
A doctor stands in the middle of the makeshift COVID-19 screening center outside Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York.  (NurPhoto via Getty Images)

I am a medical resident. I work six days per week, nights and days, taking care of the people of New York. Last week, I was asked to join the war and redeploy to the coronavirus units. While others have been drafted into the war effort with orders to stay home and make incredible economic sacrifices, I will proudly serve alongside the rest of the health care heroes who have been called to step forward. 

I accept my redeployment with no increase in salary ― a salary that mostly goes towards rent and loan payments ― and with no expectation of working fewer hours. I accept that unlike our soldiers who are armed with the most powerful weapons at their disposal, many heroes in this battle will be undersupplied with life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE). When this war is over, I do not want accolades or recognition. Instead, I want my $300,000 in federal medical school loans forgiven. 

In a few short weeks, the United States has become one of the epicenters of this war. Lessons learned from health care workers fighting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in China suggest that the burden of this fight leads to extreme levels of stress, depression, anxiety and insomnia. I already see distress among my colleagues. We hear stories of health care workers at other hospitals experiencing mild COVID-like symptoms after viral exposure, who are asked to forgo testing and continue working due to a lack of tests.

In preparation for COVID-19 exposure, some of us have made the choice to move to temporary housing in an effort to protect our families. Similar to battle outcomes in China and Italy, dozens of our fellow physicians have become seriously ill with COVID-19. Some have died as a result of their service.

Healthcare workers at hospitals all over the country are told to reuse their PPE, even though the masks were designed for one-time use. Desperate to preserve their supplies, doctors and nurses have started keeping their masks in Tupperware. (Courtesy of Kate Schertz)

The best way we can say thanks to our health care heroes is to erase the enormous financial burden of their educational debt, a cost that was required to fight and win this war. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC),...

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