From the Dean: First in the world (again)

We have a new academic department at the UND SMHS – and a world-first to boot! To the best of our knowledge, the School now boasts the first Department of Indigenous Health. Although the new department will not be directly responsible for a specific course, it will provide a home for faculty members working in the Indigenous health arena. Specifically, it will house faculty involved with INMED, the Indigenous Health Ph.D. program, the Indigenous Trauma & Resilience Research Center, and other Indigenous-focused research and educational programs at the School. Some of the faculty will have dual appointments in another department, such as Public Health or Family and Community Medicine. All of the faculty, though, will have a primary interest in and commitment to the field of Indigenous health. As I’m sure you’re well aware, the health disparities among Indigenous people, especially those living on reservations, are striking. Under the leadership of Dr. Don Warne, associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion and director of the Indians into Medicine and public health programs, and his colleagues, UND and the SMHS intend to make positive contributions to help narrow the health gap that exists currently.

This isn’t the first “first” for Dr. Warne and his team. Not long ago, they inaugurated the world’s first Ph.D. program in Indigenous Health (IH). In short order, the program has matriculated 35 students, with more to come. But learning about the issues and challenges of Indigenous health isn’t limited to students enrolled in the IH program; Dr. Warne and colleagues are reaching out to other SMHS students (medical and health sciences) to help broaden their perspective on and understanding of Indigenous health issues as well. As I’ve mentioned before, our students are appropriately mindful about their ability to care for patients from diverse backgrounds, largely as a consequence of the relatively homogenous patient population that they see and interact with in the clinics and hospitals in our region. Through a variety of approaches, we hope to expand their experiences and help them feel more comfortable and prepared to help patients coming from varied backgrounds, cultures, and social norms.

Finally, we are working hard to develop some updated pandemic operational guidelines for faculty, staff, and students at the School. Following President Armacost’s comments on UND’s approach regarding the pandemic, we plan to offer a more granular interpretation of the overview for School operations starting with the official start of the fall semester on August 23, 2021. We should have the SMHS guidelines available the week prior (that is, the week after next).

So please stay safe, enjoy the rest of the summer, and take extra care with the delta variant. It continues to spread rapidly, and the best defense by far is for as many of us as possible to get vaccinated – and as soon as possible if you haven’t done so yet. The benefits far outweigh the risks.

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