From the Dean: How to honor 2020 grads?

This past Wednesday night, I had a chance to watch a virtual national celebration produced by the American Medical Association to honor the roughly 30,000 medical students nationwide who have or will be graduating this spring. Actors who have portrayed doctors on TV and in movies, along with other notable physicians and celebrities, joined the video presentation to offer encouragement, advice and inspiration to our newest physicians. Perhaps you had a chance to see the video too; I found it to be enjoyable in general, although I thought it dragged at times, especially toward the end. But I appreciated the comments by Drs. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, one of the most visible and highly respected commentators on the current pandemic, and Atul Gawande, surgeon, writer, and public health researcher at Harvard Medical School.

And speaking of graduation, the feedback that I’ve heard about our own virtual Commencement ceremonies last weekend also was positive. Our students participated in one of two graduation events, one for medical students and the other for health sciences students that occurred during UND General Commencement. Let’s hope that the pandemic situation will have improved sufficiently by next spring so that we can resume in-person Commencement activities! At some point in the future, we plan to invite back to campus our 2020 graduates so that they can participate in an in-person celebration as a substitute for the one they missed. Whether it is next year or at some other time, it really would be nice to recognize and honor our 2020 graduates with some form of special recognition. One recent graduate wrote to me earlier this week and suggested that UND should think about some special recognition for the impacted students when we have this delayed ceremony—maybe a special tassel or the like. Sounds like a good idea, don’t you think?

We are just starting to have some of our students return to the clinical arena so that they can continue their education and maturation as health professionals in training. Students will not be allowed to participate in the care of any hospitalized COVID-19 patients and will be expected and required to conform with their sponsoring hospital or clinic’s safety and COVID-19 mitigation protocols. Nonetheless, there is some increased risk to our students as they enter health care facilities—we know that high-risk groups for contracting COVID-19 are residents of long-term care facilities and health care workers. But we believe that the risk mitigation procedures in place sufficiently minimize the risk, and we feel comfortable allowing students to resume clinical training. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.

On that note, I want to acknowledge the flexibility and dedication of our community preceptors and institutional partners, who have helped make this return possible for students.

Finally, as has been my custom each year, I’d ask you to pause on Memorial Day this coming Monday to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Especially in this time of stress due to COVID-19, it is good to remind ourselves that we enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that we have due in no small part to the sacrifices of others. I served in the U.S. Army as a physician for two years, and incoming UND President Andy Armacost recently retired after more than 30 years of active duty service in the U.S. Air Force. Both Andy and I ask you to remember to say, “Thank you for your service,” when you encounter a member of the armed services. And please—remember to stay safe, stay connected, and stay in touch.

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