From the Dean: Congratulations graduates!

As I mentioned in last week’s column, this weekend marks graduation for our senior class of medical and health sciences students. All together, more than 320 UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences students will receive their degrees in virtual Commencement ceremonies that get underway at 10 a.m. tomorrow. I have recorded on video several congratulatory commencement comments (one each for the School of Law, the medical student graduation, and UND undergraduate and graduate commencement) that are available here, where you also can see our graduates as they are recognized individually. I hope that you can “join” us for these festive events. The sign-up thus far has been gratifying; we’ve had about 1,200 seniors submit photographs to be displayed during the various UND commencement events, which compares quite favorably with what we’ve seen for recent in-person ceremonies. By the way, we have invited all of our soon-to-be graduates back to campus at some point in the future for an in-person, albeit delayed, celebration. So again, heartfelt congratulations to all of our graduating seniors, and all best wishes in your future endeavors. We are very proud of you!

Plans continue for the incoming classes of students this summer and fall, as well as returning students. We and UND as a whole are hard at work planning for the various adjustments that will be required for a COVID-compliant campus. As you probably know, UND has mandated online instruction and no face-to-face classroom activities for the summer semester, although we are planning for on-campus instruction re-starting with the fall semester. One of the most important issues for SMHS students is when they can get back into clinical rotations; up until now, both we and the sponsoring hospitals and clinics have felt that it just wasn’t safe or appropriate to have students in clinical settings and possibly in harm’s way. But as the pandemic has played out in North Dakota, and as we have been able to flex up our testing, contact tracing, surge bed capacity and the like, we now are beginning discussions on when (and how) it might be appropriate to consider allowing health professions students back into the clinical arena. I should have more to report soon, so stay tuned!

Finally, I want to recognize the roughly 50 School employees who will have their hours reduced (typically to zero) as part of UND’s reduction in effort program (out of a total of 405 for all of UND). For these staff members, starting tomorrow (in most cases) they will be eligible to receive North Dakota unemployment benefits as well as additional funds from the federal CARES act. For the vast majority of staff, thanks to these two sources of funding, they will see no major reduction in their compensation. And UND will continue to provide important benefits for the employees like health insurance. Most employees will remain in this temporary status from tomorrow through July 31, 2020, when we anticipate that most will return to their usual prior work schedule and hours at UND. This reduction in effort was necessitated by the downturn in activity and work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but with the anticipated return to campus of students for the fall semester, we are hopeful that we can return most, if not all, to their prior work hours and thus compensation. This process helped UND weather a major economic stress associated with the pandemic during the current fiscal/academic year ending June 30, but it certainly was stressful for those involved. While the vast majority of those affected will experience no major reduction in their compensation, it was (and is) not fun for us—and especially for them. So here’s a “hats off” to those of you who are impacted by this necessary adjustment. Thank you for your hard work in the past. We are looking forward to your return in August, and we all are grateful for your dedication to the UND community and the UND SMHS.

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