Medical professions are typically plagued with high rates of burnout, with over half of physicians and one-third of nurses experiencing exhaustion and general frustration that results from long term stress — and the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated these feelings.
A new piece of legislation now aims to alleviate this stress by forgiving frontline health workers student loan debt.
On May 5, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Workers Act, which would forgive the loans acquired to receive medical and professional training of medical workers directly involved in COVID-19 patient care.
“One of the most crucial problems confronting us is the shortage of personnel and the exhaustion of the personel. The physical and emotional strain on staff is drastic,” Maloney said in a Zoom call introducing the legislation.
Maloney represents New York’s 12th district, which includes Weill Cornell Medicine and the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. Maloney was joined by Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, Weill Cornell Dean, in the Zoom call.
“We really applaud you for recognizing the dedication and commitment and service of our frontline healthcare workers around the country who have committed themselves to providing the best care to our patients in need by introducing this fabulous bill,” Choi said.
The bill includes the vast array of medical professionals involved in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Maloney specifically named doctors, nurses and healthcare professions in emergency rooms and intensive care units in addition to the medical students, residents and interns who have put their education on hold to bolster the workforce. The bill also provides a pathway for other healthcare professionals to apply for loan forgiveness.
Weill Cornell is no stranger to trying to financially support its students with staggering amounts of debt. In September 2019, Weill Cornell eliminated all student debt for medical students that qualified for financial aid, in an attempt to reduce student loan debt.
The program replaces student loans with scholarship programs that cover tuition, housing and other living expenses. In a similar manner to the bill, the program was established to reduce the financial burden on those dedicated to helping others through medicine.
The bill comes at a time where there is growing concern for the mental health of frontline healthcare workers. A study of over 1,000 healthcare workers in China found that half of these professionals had symptoms of depression, 34 percent reported insomnia, 44.1 percent reported anxiety and nearly three-quarters of professionals reported distress. Maloney cited the recent suicides of Dr. Lorna Breen ’92 M.S. ’21 and New York City EMT John Mundella as examples of the mounting mental health concerns.
A number of groups, including the American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, American Federation of Teachers and the Association of American Medical Colleges endorsed the legislation. Randi Weingarten ’80, an alumna of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, is the president of the AFT. David Skorton, the current president and CEO of the AAMC, served as Cornell’s president from 2006 to 2015.