A former medical student was recently thurst onto the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic when he started working at a hospital treating COVID-19 patients just days after his virtual graduation.
"It's been surreal," Dr. Ashkay Kapoor told ABC News' "Pandemic: What You Need to Know." "It's one week we matched our residency programs. The following week we graduated and, the week after, we were in the hospital helping take care of our neighbors. So, it's been quite a whirlwind experience over the past few weeks, but we feel well prepared for it."
Kapoor graduated from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in an early commencement on March 31. He said the school moved up the graduation by a month due to the coronavirus and the growing need for doctors. He took the Hippocratic Oath alongside two friends on the videoconferencing platform Zoom while on their porch.
Despite the tight turnaround, Kapoor said the transition "was actually relatively smooth, believe it or not."
"All of us had grown up in the community from the surrounding towns. We've been in the same hospitals before we came to medical school and during it and trained at the same providers," he explained. "Our mentors are there and we know the staff. UMass was really helpful in giving us the resources we need and including a COVID-19 boot camp before we started so we hit the ground running."
Kapoor said he volunteered to be on a team focusing on COVID-19, and that it has "been pretty difficult" to handle the high volume of patients battling the virus.
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"You remember every patient who passes on to your care. You remember their face. You remember their family," he said. "And in just [the] few short weeks I've been in the hospital, I've lost more patients and had difficult conversations with loved ones than [in] my combined training so far."
Despite working in conditions unlike any he's seen before, Kapoor said they have adapted to the new environment, especially when it comes to patient care.
"I think we live in surreal times. I think everything has changed. Our school really emphasizes personal communication and being there for someone — putting a hand out when they need it," he said. "And in this new climate, we're doing most of our work through the computer, on the phone or even FaceTiming our patients."
Kapoor described the halls of the hospital as "eerie" but said there have been glimpses of warmth and positivity that have come from the experience.
"The hospital is a really different place right now," he said. "It's almost eerie and it's really empty, but there is a really strong sense of community that's emerged from this virus and maybe that's a silver lining in all this. ... You see it amongst the doctors, nurses, support staff, first responders and the community as a whole, and I think that new bond is really what's keeping us going."
Kapoor expressed appreciation for the support he's received from the community and asked others to "continue doing that and remember that behind that mask ... there is a smile and a human."