From the Dean: News from Bismarck

The School’s presentation to the North Dakota Legislature’s Senate Appropriations Committee this past Monday went well. Dave Molmen, CEO of Altru Health System and the chair of the UND SMHS Advisory Council and I presented virtually, utilizing the slides available here. We fielded a few insightful questions from committee members, but none that were problematic. One of the senators asked for the breakdown by class of where our medical students hail from, and Dr. James Porter, associate dean for Student Affairs and Admissions, and his staff have compiled the data. Seven of each year’s medical student slots are reserved for students accepted into our Indians into Medicine (INMED) program that attracts students from the region and across the nation. For non-INMED students, across all four medical student classes, 85% of the students are from (65%) or have ties (20%) to North Dakota, 11% are from Minnesota, and 4% are from the WICHE program that accommodates students from states without medical schools. Additionally, for the most recent year for which we have national data (2019), 91% of college students from North Dakota who entered medical school anywhere in the U.S. came to the UND SMHS! This is precisely what we mean by “growing our own” doctors and other health care providers who have a high likelihood of remaining in or returning to North Dakota for practice after graduation/residency.

The next major presentation will be in March when we testify before the House Appropriations Committee – Education and Environment Division. I don’t anticipate that we will have to alter our presentation much, although we will continue to monitor the Legislature for any significant developments. One of the factors that will be important as the legislative session progresses will be the next economic report and budget outlook prediction from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that should become available sometime in March, probably early in month.

I’ll outline more details about our budget request to the Legislature later this month during the annual “State of the School” presentation at the next Faculty Assembly, scheduled for Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. I will be joined by Dr. David Relling, chair of Faculty Council and professor and chair of our Department of Physical Therapy, who will give the “Faculty Council Annual Report.” The Assembly will be held virtually because of the pandemic, but I hope that you can join us at https://und.zoom.us/j/99204739914.

Lastly, a few comments about the pandemic and its impact on our programs. After two spikes in cases last year (one from late August through the end of September and the other from mid-October through November), UND, the university system, and the State for that matter have remained at a modest but relatively flat level. Hospitalizations currently are not overwhelming our health care systems, and deaths are decreasing. Fortunately, we have not seen a post-holiday spike in cases, at least thus far. But routine testing is less frequent than previously, so there may well be more asymptomatic people out there who are undetected. Vaccinations in higher-risk people are proceeding, and North Dakota is one of the national leaders in getting people vaccinated. Our educational, research, and service programs are robust, active, and productive. All of that said, though, we remain quite concerned about the emotional toll that the pandemic is wreaking on our faculty, staff, and especially students. We have redoubled our efforts to reach out to employees and students and provide as much support and ancillary services as we can – but the depressing reality of the pandemic is real and powerful. I would encourage all of us to continue to physically distance but actively avoid social distancing. Using videoconferencing with our grandkids isn’t remotely the same as hugging them – but it’s better than nothing! And if you feel that you’re approaching your limit, please get some help! As the expression goes – “Test negative but stay positive!”

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