From the Dean: Balancing the scales

I’m proud of the efforts and outcomes of the School’s various initiatives to promote diversity in our student ranks. We have identified rural background and American Indian heritage as our two focus areas for medical student diversity, and the results of our efforts have been impressive. Rural medical student enrollment over the past five years constitutes more than one-third of all medical student classes. Parenthetically, in concert with national trends, we’ve achieved gender equity in our medical student ranks, with about half the class made up of women. But perhaps the most impressive achievement relates to American Indians – we now rank number one in the country (when compared with all other medical schools) as far as the fraction of the class that identifies as American Indian.

We’ve had similar positive growth in our faculty ranks as it relates to faculty background; under the leadership of Dr. Donald Warne, associate dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, over the past two years we’ve recruited six American Indian faculty.

Where we haven’t done as well is the gender balance at the faculty and senior leadership level on the medical program side of the School. It turns out that looking at the UND SMHS as a whole, we rank well above average in the percentage of faculty members who are women – according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), 46 percent of our faculty are female, placing us at the 80th percentile nationwide (where the 50th percentile would be “average”). But this is a somewhat misleading statistic since by including the health sciences faculty (who tend to be female), the national data from the AAMC overcompensate for the medical program numbers. It is important to emphasize that the issue of underrepresentation of females in medical schools is not just a local phenomenon – the AAMC has reported that across the country women make up only 18 percent of department chairs. And look at this chart of national data on the retention of women as they progress through the academic ranks at medical schools across the country:

Academic rank versus Percent female
Instructor   –   58%
Assistant Profesor   –   46%
Associate Professor   –   37%
Professor   –   25%

Source: The State of Women in Academic Medicine 2018-2019, AAMC

In order to do better, I’m delighted to indicate that Dr. Holly Brown-Borg, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor and member of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the School, has accepted my invitation to become the inaugural Assistant Dean for Gender Equity at the UND SMHS. Working with our Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dr. Don Warne, Dr. Brown-Borg will work with faculty search committees and others to help enlarge the pool of faculty candidates to include more women, as well as work on strategies for better retention of recruited female faculty members. Dr. Brown-Borg also will help develop and promote additional strategies and partnerships designed to augment the opportunities for further leadership and professional development of our female colleagues, present and future. Welcome to your new (additional) role Holly – and thank you!

And speaking of thanks, this past Wednesday we bid a fond goodbye and expressed profound gratitude to Dr. Tom Mohr, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor and Associate Dean for Health Sciences, who will retire at the end of June, just short of 43 years of exemplary service to UND, the School, and literally generations of students. We held the event in-person outdoors on the east patio of the Grand Forks building, and there was an impressive turnout. But no wonder – Tom is beloved especially by his students but truly by all. He is a highly regarded teacher, scholar, clinician, and administrator. But most of all, he is a decent and highly principled person. All of us are better for knowing him. So thank you Tom for all that you have done, and best wishes to you and Peg in the future!

We are fortunate that two of Tom’s proteges in the Department of Physical Therapy that he chaired for many years have accepted new leadership roles upon his retirement. Dr. David Relling, the current chair of the department, will step into Tom’s shoes as Associate Dean for Health Sciences on July 1, 2021, ensuring good continuity of the health sciences group senior leadership. Additionally, Dr. Cindy Flom-Meland will become the new chair of the department. Both Drs. Relling and Flom-Meland have dedicated many years to the department, school, university, and their profession, and are truly outstanding faculty members and people. What else would you expect of Tom’s proteges? I am extremely pleased with these leadership developments and am confident that Dave and Cindy will continue on the amazing path that has been blazed by Tom over all of these years. All best wishes to both!

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