From the Dean: Legislative affairs and recognizing clinical faculty

The School held its first-ever virtual Holiday Gathering last night. Ordinarily, we coordinate December celebrations on each of our four campuses as well as a luncheon get-together that we hold on the second floor of the Grand Forks building. But because of the pandemic, we consolidated all five parties into one – made possible by the internet. While it wasn’t the same as the events in the past, I think that the nearly 100 members of the SMHS family who participated felt that it was better than nothing. The event allowed us to wish all in our UND circle good cheer and happy holidays, and recognize some of the clinical faculty members who graciously help educate our students. In all, this year we saw more than 140 clinicians from our campuses in Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, and Minot recognized for their 5, 10, 20, 30, and even 40 years of service to the School! It was another example of the need to keep socially connected during this time of physical distancing.

Later today we have an important meeting coming up when the members of the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences Advisory Council gather for one of our periodic meetings. As you may recall from prior columns, the Council is mandated by the North Dakota Century Code and is comprised of membership from a variety of healthcare-related entities from across North Dakota. Chaired by Altru Health System Interim CEO Dave Molmen, the Advisory Council is charged with advising the School, UND, and especially the Legislature regarding the strategic direction and activities of the SMHS. It has been an incredible advocate for health programs for the state, and a valued assessor of the programs, activities, and accomplishments of the School. One of our big agenda items this afternoon will be preparations for the upcoming session of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly that starts on January 5, 2021. Our proposed budget will be the major focus of the Council’s attention, since the Executive Budget just released by the Governor envisions significant proposed funding cuts for higher education, including at the School. In total, the budget as submitted envisions over a $30 million cut for the North Dakota University System, and since the School has the third largest budget of all the institutions in the NDUS (behind UND and NDSU), we are facing proposed cuts of about $3 million in appropriated funding – despite no expected decrease in student head count (unlike many other NDUS institutions). In fact, we have seen an approximate 40% increase in applicants to our medical program compared to last year, with more than 2,000 applications to process for the MD Class of 2025!

So we have our work cut out for us as we work with the members of the Legislature to see what can be done to preserve the requisite funding for the important programs and services we provide to the state. We faced a similar budget challenge in the last legislative session, and in the end the SMHS emerged with sufficient funding that allowed us to continue all of our important programs. This is where the UND SMHS Advisory Council’s input is so valuable – the Council is seen as (and is!) independent of the School and thus viewed as impartial. Accordingly, I’m really looking forward to the meeting later this afternoon. One thing is for sure – a lot can happen in the 80 days that the Legislature is scheduled to meet next year. So stay tuned – I’ll keep you informed and up-to-date as to our budget situation along with other important developments in our educational, research, and service programs.

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