From the Dean: Farewell, Dr. Gray!

This past Wednesday was a bitter-sweet day as we wished “Happy Retirement” to Dr. Jacque Gray with a drive-by celebration. Dr. Gray, associate director of Indigenous Programs at the UND Center for Rural Health and program director of the National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative (NIEJI), is retiring after 22 years with us! I hope you had a chance to thank Dr. Jacque Gray for her commitment and service to the Indigenous and UND communities over those many years. Best wishes in retirement, Dr. Gray!

Also this week, we are celebrating National Primary Care Week 2021, an annual event held to highlight the importance of primary care in health care delivery. Coordinated through our Center for Rural Health, the week’s activities bring healthcare professionals together to discuss and learn about generalist and interdisciplinary healthcare, especially in rural parts of North Dakota. The importance of primary care should be obvious to all, especially in view of the enduring observation of better health care outcomes for people fortunate enough to live in areas with strong primary care support. The activities this week were both in-person and virtual due to the pandemic and included discussions by our faculty, resident physicians, and health care representatives from around the state. We are fortunate in North Dakota that a disproportionate number of our medical students are interested in primary care; over the years, we average more than double the national average of our graduating class choosing a family medicine residency. Furthermore, almost three quarters of the family medicine physicians practicing in the state either went to UND for medical school and/or did an in-state family medicine residency. So happy Primary Care Week 2021 North Dakota!

Yesterday I was asked to provide a pandemic update to the State Board of Higher Education during their meeting at North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) in Wahpeton. The meeting was both in-person and virtual. I presented virtually, as I had a full clinic schedule that day. My slides are available here, if you’d like to look at them. I ended my comments on a hopeful note regarding the pandemic by referencing a report just published online by the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub (which is coordinated by researchers at Penn State University). Based on its sophisticated modelling scenarios, the Hub predicts that COVID-19 cases will decrease substantially across the United States over the next six months, barring the emergence of any new variants or major changes in behavior. Fingers crossed, for sure!

Finally, today is the annual meeting of the North Dakota Medical Association. Due to the pandemic, the meeting will be virtual. It kicks off with an opening address by the president of the American Medical Association (AMA), Dr. Gerald E. Harmon. Dr. Harmon will provide an update from the AMA and discuss broad trends in U.S. health care and key advocacy issues for physicians that go far beyond the pandemic. I’m next up with an update from the School. The title of my talk is “Serving North Dakota Today and in the Future.” One of the points I will emphasize is how grateful we are for the teaching efforts of the many physicians throughout the state who are what we call “voluntary” faculty. These are physicians who do not work for UND or the School full-time, and yet find time to help train our students and residents (physicians-in-training). Of the roughly 1,800 physicians practicing in North Dakota, more than 1,300 of them are on our voluntary clinical faculty roster, the highest percentage of such instructors in the country. Thank you to all of you!

I will be followed by my colleague Dr. Andrew McLean, clinical professor and chair, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science. Andy’s topic is “The Risks and Benefits of Righteous Indignation: Advocacy in Medicine. How to Get Your Point Across and Effect Change Amid Potential (and often self-inflicted) Obstacles.” The meeting concludes with a panel of four North Dakota legislators who will discuss how advocacy can make a difference in health care policy. Their panel is entitled “The Power of a Health Care Advocate: How to Advocate for Better Health Care Policy.” The panelists include Sen. Judy Lee (District 13; West Fargo); Rep. Corey Mock (District 42; Grand Forks); Rep. Emily O’Brien (District 42; Grand Forks); and Rep. Greg Westlind (District 15; Cando).

It has been (and still is!) a busy week with lots going on. As always, stay safe, get vaccinated if you haven’t yet, and stay connected. And remember to get a flu shot too!

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