From the Dean

This has been an exciting week as the School welcomed 77 entering medical students from the Class of 2023 to campus. My wife Dr. Susan Farkas and I hosted a reception for them this past Wednesday evening at the North Dakota Museum of Art, and it was fun for us to visit with them. Many of us are in for a special treat this afternoon when our guest speaker at the School’s MD White Coat Ceremony, Dr. David Skorton, gives his address. As I mentioned in last week’s column, David is the newly installed president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). You may remember that we hosted the outgoing president of the AAMC, Dr. Darrell Kirch, as the guest speaker at the gala celebrating the opening of the new building in 2016. It should be a great evening tonight, and we expect a full house, with upwards of 600 attendees at the Alerus Center.

The past two months certainly have been busy ones for Susan and me since I assumed the role of interim president of UND in addition to those of vice president of Health Affairs and dean of the School. I have found it to be a fascinating and interesting experience, despite the very full calendar. Seeing higher education through the lens of a university president rather than “just” a vice president has given me a broader perspective. And even in this short time period I’ve become more familiar with three important trends in higher education that have particular relevance to non-health care related education, but importance to the School nonetheless. Those trends are: 1) a decreasing number of high school graduates who are potential college students due to the declining birth rate across the country as the children of the Baby Boomers enter middle age—plus millennials having fewer children on average; 2) a change in the educational aspirations of those graduates, with a pivot toward more technical and professional vocational aspirations, including the health professions, but also a pivot away from traditional degree programs and more toward occupationally-related education in the form of certificate programs; and 3) a change in the desired method of education, with an increasing desire for online components by current and future students, and a desire to learn asynchronously—that is, when and where the student desires, not when and where the professor and institution prefer.

I’ve come to appreciate that these three trends, especially occurring together, pose significant challenges to higher education in the years ahead. As far as point two specifically is concerned, remember that we’re already feeling the effects of provider shortages for all professions—especially in rural areas—and that health care makes up 18 percent of America’s GDP. As such, students’ growing interest in diving right into health careers, at either the university or technical college level, bodes well for our School and nation. Mind you, none of this comes as any surprise to the current leadership team at UND; they have been working on these issues for years. And as a prior member of that leadership team, I’ve been generally aware of them. But since June 16, when I assumed the interim presidency, I’ve become even more acutely aware of their importance.

As far as implications for the School, I think that it is likely that the gradual but continuing reduction in the number of high school graduates due to the declining birth rate likely will be balanced in the health professions by the heightened interest in a health-related career by high school and college graduates. But the increasing desire of students for more virtual and less in-class education does have implications for us as well. And I think that we are ahead of the curve on this issue as many of our classes already incorporate on-line components. Our educational design teams are acutely aware of this trend and are designing curricular content and delivery methods that take this trend into account. We hope to outline some of the curricular innovations and improvements that we are planning in future columns. I think that you’ll find them interesting and informative!

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