From the Dean

This coming Sunday, June 16, will be my first day as interim President of UND, a role I accepted in addition to my continuing roles as vice president for Health Affairs and dean of your School of Medicine & Health Sciences. As you might imagine, I’ve already been in touch with various people representing a variety of constituencies both within UND and in the larger non-UND community for their thoughts, insights, and suggestions. The one thing that is clear from these discussions so far is the general consensus that we are headed in the right direction with our OneUND strategic plan. I plan to continue to expand those conversations over the next few weeks, and unless there is substantive feedback that would suggest otherwise, it is my intention to continue the implementation of the plan. It already is showing positive results, such as the recent improvement in undergraduate retention and graduation rates. And we plan to do even better!

On a practical and operational level, it is my intention to spend most mornings in the Office of the President in Twamley Hall and afternoons in my SMHS office. I’ve already reduced my scheduled clinical activities by more than a quarter starting as soon as next week. And Susan is adjusting her work schedule some too so that she will spend more time up in Grand Forks rather than in Fargo, thus reducing my commuting time on Interstate 29. Being able to reduce that travel time commitment, along with my reduced clinic schedule, will free up a significant amount of time so that I can do all three jobs.

As far as UND SMHS news goes, I was fortunate to be able to attend a great symposium this past weekend that was sponsored by the DaCCoTA (Dakota Cancer Collaborative on Translational Activity) initiative—the brainchild of our Senior Associate Dean of Medicine and Research, and Professor of Surgery, Dr. Marc Basson. The DaCCoTA initiative is focused on expanding clinical and translational (“laboratory bench to patient bedside”) research in the field of cancer, and brings together a dozen academic and clinical institutions. Organizations in both North and South Dakota are members, and there was a gratifying feeling of cooperation and collaboration evident at the symposium. I expect great things from this federally sponsored initiative, obviously as do the reviewers of the original grant application at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). After all, it isn’t every day that an institution like UND gets a grant that brings in more than $20 million for research alone! We hope that this grant (called a CTR grant for “clinical and translational research”) is a preliminary step toward an even larger and more comprehensive grant from the NIH called a CTSA grant (for Clinical and Translational Science Award), one of the most prestigious federal grants around. Currently there only are about 50 awardees of such grants, and it would be phenomenal if some day we qualified for one. Nothing is guaranteed, but thanks to the efforts of Dr. Basson and his colleagues and associates, we are off to a phenomenal start in our quest for one!

One such colleague is Dr. Don Warne, the director of our Indians Into Medicine and Master of Public Health programs and our associate dean for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. In addition to working on some DaCCoTA initiatives and fresh off giving testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., in May, Dr. Warne just this week presented at the Third Indigenous Cardiovascular Health Conference in Wellington, New Zealand. And next week, he will be a featured speaker at the annual Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colo.!

As both Dr. Warne’s and Dr. Basson’s examples suggest, the work happening right here in North Dakota—in the SMHS—is having global impacts every day and making the world a healthier, better place. We should all be proud to be part of such amazing work.

Finally, next week I’ll be in Chicago for a few days at the last of the three meetings held each year by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). As you may recall, this is the organization that accredits all of the medical schools in the United States and Canada, and I’m a member of the panel that does the accrediting (we are called members rather than trustees, governors, or board members). And I’m pleased to report that the LCME has been more than responsive to efforts intended to ensure that the accreditation process is a stimulus for change and continuous quality improvement rather than a damper on innovation and experimentation. I look forward to these meetings (and to the survey team visits to medical schools that I do about once a year) because I always learn something that we can use back here in North Dakota.

As you may know, our next LCME survey team visit will be in 2022, probably in March. So even though it seems like we just had our last visit, the next one is less than three years away. Wow, does time fly! But I think that we will be in good shape, thanks to the efforts of many, but especially our Assistant Dean for Medical Accreditation Dr. Steve Tinguely. I’ve set the bar quite high regarding expectations for our next visit in 2022. I’ve indicated to our accreditation team members that our goal should be a perfect LCME review—one without a single citation. That’s a very demanding expectation, and one that is achieved only occasionally. But it can be done; Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Medicine actually did it twice, and in consecutive accreditation cycles to boot! We recently invited the former dean of SIU who oversaw that phenomenal achievement (Dr. Kevin Dorsey) to visit us and offer suggestions about our current state of preparation for our next LCME visit. His report was quite positive, but did suggest some areas for particular attention. We appreciate his team’s insights and suggestions, and I think that we are closer still to an unblemished report than ever before. We are not there yet, and we’ll need to continue to work hard to prepare for our next evaluation. But an unblemished report is an achievable goal, and if we continue on our current positive path, I believe that it is achievable. So thanks to all, and keep up the good work!

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