From the Dean: Honoring Rick Vari, taking our School’s vital signs

Recently, I attended the virtual retirement ceremony for Dr. Rick Vari, held October 29, 2021, by the Virginia Tech Carilion (VTC) School of Medicine where Rick was the Senior Dean for Academic Affairs and a founding faculty member. Many of you will remember Rick when he was a faculty member here at the School before he was recruited to VTC, a new medical school, in 2008 to develop their medical student curriculum as he had here at UND in the 1990s and 2000s (when we totally revised our own medical student curriculum). The event was bittersweet for several reasons, not the least of which is that Rick has been diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a progressive degenerative neurologic condition. By the way, Rick has been open about his medical condition, so I am not sharing any confidential information. Rick was in a wheelchair for the event and didn’t speak, but his wife Patty spoke on his behalf. It was a very moving event, and it is apparent just how much the entire VTC community cares for and appreciates Rick. The comments from the students were especially poignant. A lectureship has been established in Rick’s name that you can contribute to, if you’re so inclined, here.

Earlier this week we held a debriefing following the recent Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) annual national meeting called Learn Serve Lead 2021 as we typically do so that the School’s attendees at the meeting can share their impressions. This year’s LSL again was virtual as it was last year. If there was one theme to the meeting, it was that of the importance of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in medical schools and our associated health systems. One example of the problem from a national perspective is the following amazing fact: although medical school enrollment has grown over time, the number of black male medical matriculants actually decreased between 1978 and 2014! Since then, there has been some modest progress, with the percentage of matriculants who identify as black males increasing from around 2.4% to 2.9% of all medical school matriculants. But it is an example of how far we have to go as a country. Our own diversity efforts for medical students have focused on American Indian and rural candidates, and you know how successful we’ve been in both regards. More information on the broader DEI efforts at our School can be found here. By the way, in case you are curious, we mirror national data in that the gender mix of our medical student class averages around 50/50, although because of our small class size this mix varies some from year to year.

I’d also like to draw your attention to the recently released and updated version of Vital Signs, the School’s self-generated report card on how we have performed during the prior year. Vital signs, as you know, are the various measurements of bodily function, like blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory rate, that give practitioners a sense of how the patient is doing. Likewise, Vital Signs is one way we look at how well we are doing as a School. You may have received a copy of it (or will shortly), but if you don’t and would like to review the data from 2021, it is available online here. For a hard copy or further assistance, please contact Kristen Peterson at kristen.peterson@UND.edu or 701.777.4305.

Finally, yesterday UND offered guidance on the much-discussed federal mandate regarding required COVID-19 vaccination for individuals associated with certain federal contracts, of which UND has many. UND President Armacost sent an email to the entire UND community that outlines the university’s approach going forward, which will be a “deliberate and steady approach to comply with the mandate.” Further information will be forthcoming at an upcoming Town Hall meeting that has been set for noon on Thursday, Dec. 2. You may login at https://und.zoom.us/j/95971909538?pwd=aVVuZXEybFNrQUl5OGhoRE9BaXNCQT09.

I’ll end, then, by echoing President Armacost’s encouragement to get vaccinated, if you’ve not already, and thanks to those who have done so. Be well, stay safe, and keep moving forward.

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