From the Dean: The place to be for Indigenous health education

I should begin by noting that earlier this week we celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day. As you know, the UND SMHS has made Indigenous health and healthcare – not to mention the education of Indigenous health providers – one of our major goals. Just a month ago, for example, we announced the formation of the world’s first Department of Indigenous Health. This announcement follows a string of notices from the School along similar lines, including the recently announced Indigenous Trauma & Resilience Research Center (ITRRC), the result of a five-year, $10 million award from the National Institutes of Health, and the School’s new practice-based research network (PBRN) to be known as the American Indian Collaborative Research Network (AICoRN). On this last, the ITRRC is in the midst of managing a new clinical trial on the health benefits of chokeberries, which have been part of Indigenous medicine for centuries.

Most of these efforts are the result of the work of INMED director Dr. Don Warne and his excellent team, who have done many amazing things in a very short amount of time. I can’t tell you how proud it makes me to say that for anyone interested in Indigenous health – as a provider, researcher, public health professional, or teacher – you very likely can’t do better than UND. And the world, it seems, is catching on to this fact. Just last week, for example, Dr. Warne, director also of our public health program and the School’s associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, was awarded the 2021 Helen Rodríguez-Trías Award for Social Justice from the American Public Health Association. This is an incredible, national accomplishment that speaks, again, to the caliber of work ongoing at UND in these arenas – public health, Indigenous health, and the production of Indigenous health providers.

In other news, the longtime Associate Dean of our Southwest Campus in Bismarck, Dr. A. Michael Booth, is retiring. Dr. Booth has been a fixture in the Bismarck-Mandan community for decades and was helping train our medical students years before I arrived in North Dakota. I always appreciated Dr. Booth’s commitment to students, and although I’m happy for him that he’s retiring, I’ll miss his wise counsel and leadership on the Southwest Campus.

At the same time, I’m very pleased that Dr. Luke Roller, clinical assistant professor and chair of radiology with the School, has been named Dr. Booth’s successor. Dr. Roller’s skill as a physician-educator is well-known, and he’s a huge fan of North Dakota. I have no doubt he will adapt well to the associate dean role and look forward to his energy and enthusiasm.

Thanks, then, to Dr. David Schmitz, professor in the SMHS Department of Family & Community Medicine, who will serve as interim chair of our Department of Radiology until a replacement for Dr. Roller is named. An internal search for a new radiology chair is open at the School now, and interested candidates are encouraged to contact Heather Jensen (heather.jensen@UND.edu) for information on how to apply for the position.

Turning to Homecoming, it is with regret that we’ve had to cancel our School’s 2021 Milestone Banquet. This decision was made after careful consideration of the current trajectory of the COVID-19 delta variant in the region, and its likely community presence later in October. As much as it pains me to do so, with cases still trending upward it becomes harder to justify bringing alumni together to eat and mingle in a state with a SARS-CoV-2 positive test rate floating around 10% in some counties (and around at least 7% in Grand Forks). So, we’ll do the safest thing for now and look forward to next year’s banquet, which will celebrate 10 years of our amazing public health program.

But we still encourage you to participate in our multi-disciplinary Continuing Education Symposium, entitled “Disrupting Aging,” to be held in hybrid fashion from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 22. Education credits are still available to participants who join us even online for presentations on topics such as the biology of aging, the value of mobility for aging persons, elder mental health, and “Geri Pop,” an aging simulation for providers.

You can still register for the symposium here, and I hope to “see” you there.

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