From the Dean

Here’s an update on the legislative front. The funding bill for all of higher education (engrossed HB 1003) has been under review by the Senate Appropriations Committee since we presented to the committee several weeks ago. This past Wednesday, a subcommittee consisting of three members of the full committee met to come up with specific recommendations for any changes to the bill that the Senate might propose. Although we don’t know yet what the final Senate version of the funding bill will look like, it often is the case that the Senate version and the House version of the bill differ (sometimes substantially), in which case there is a conference committee meeting comprised of members from each chamber (House and Senate). That meeting likely will take place sometime in early- to mid-April. And we won’t know the final verdict on the bill until even later in April.

For now, each of the three major requests that relate to the School seem to have good support in the Legislature: the needs-based budget that we submitted originally (after approval by the UND SMHS Advisory Council, UND, the North Dakota University System, and the State Board of Higher Education); the re-designation of almost $11 million in Healthcare Workforce Initiative funding from “one-time” to “base;” and some degree of merit increase for employees (faculty and staff members). Additionally, it is unclear at present what fate awaits the research funding proposal advanced jointly by Presidents Kennedy (UND) and Bresciani (NDSU); if funding is provided, the School hopes to garner some of its support for our research efforts in the clinical and translational realm. By the way, “translational” refers to efforts designed to speed the application of discoveries in research laboratories to the clinic to help patient care; one way of expressing this is to say that we want to speed the application of discoveries made at the lab bench to the patient’s bedside. The large grant ($20.3 million) that Dr. Marc Basson, senior associate dean for Medicine and  Research, received recently from the National Institutes of Health will provide the framework for “bench to bedside” research projects in the cancer realm, but we hope to build on that foundation with other research projects that are funded (at least in part) with state dollars. Such a research partnership between the state and its research universities has been extremely successful in other states (Texas and Utah, for example), and we hope that the same may be said someday about North Dakota.

So, we still have a number of weeks to go until we know the final status of state support for the SMHS as well as UND and the rest of the university system. But with just about a month to go in this year’s legislative session, we’ll know soon enough. Of course I’ll bring you further details about funding for the School and our budget projections for the upcoming biennium (for both education, service to the community, and research) as soon as further details emerge.

I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of two former SMHS librarians: Connie Strand, who was head of circulation at our former Harley E. French Library of the Health Sciences, and Lila Pedersen, who served as library director from 1992 to 2016. They both played crucial roles in teaching our students. My condolences to their families.

Finally, we have a very special event coming up next week. Dean’s Hour, at noon on Thursday, April 4, will feature Julie A. Blehm, MD, FACP, associate professor of Internal Medicine (retired), and Robert Olson, MD, clinical professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science, who will discuss “Provider Depression and Suicide.” Dr. Blehm taught at UND for many years and was our regional campus dean for the Southeast (Fargo) campus. She lost her husband David, a pediatrician, to suicide a number of years ago, making this conversation a must-see. Drs. Blehm and Olson will speak in the SMHS Charles H. Fee, MD, Auditorium (E101) in Grand Forks. The presentation also will be broadcast to the following UND SMHS campus sites:

  • Bismarck, Southwest Campus, Room 2108
  • Fargo, Southeast Campus, Room 219
  • Minot, Northwest Campus Conference Room

You may also view this presentation online here. It promises to be a special and moving event and I hope you will be able to participate. Please mark your calendar.

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
UND Vice President for Health Affairs
Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences