School of Medicine & Health Sciences and Sanford launch new oncology, hematology and neurology programs

The UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences and Sanford Health have officially launched their Sanford-based Hematology-Oncology Fellowship Program and Neurology Resident Training Program.

The new programs are part of a historic $300 million philanthropic investment, announced by Sanford Health in March, to transform rural health care delivery for generations. Sanford Health is working with its academic partners to create eight new fellowships and residencies in a number of critical specialty areas. The unprecedented expansion will bring highly sought-after clinical expertise, resources and subspecialties to North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota so patients can access high-quality care close to home.

Both specializations are growing in demand nationally – and both are facing a shortage of providers, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), with neurology in particular set to see a “substantial increase in demand” over the next decade, according to one AAMC report.

These programs are sponsored by UND SMHS and funded by Sanford Health. The two organizations will continue to partner to develop additional training programs to help address the need for more physicians across the region.

“North Dakota has a very severe shortage of neurologists,” said Dr. Jau-Shin Lou, director of the UND neurology residency and chair of neurology at Sanford Health, of the specialization dedicated to diagnosing and treating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain, and Alzheimer’s disease. “We need about 40 neurologists, but we have only 22 right now. And the need for neurologists is expected to increase over the next two decades because of the aging population in North Dakota.”

The case is similar for the cancer-based hematology-oncology sub-specialization, added UND fellowship program director and hematologist / oncologist at Sanford Health, Matthew Tinguely, M.D., whose new program will be conducting applicant interviews this fall for fellows who will begin in July 2022.

“In 2017 the Centers for Disease Control released a report revealing that while cancer death rates decreased nationwide between 2006 through 2015, there was a gap between urban and rural results,” Dr. Tinguely said. “Even though cancer death rates in rural America are decreasing, the decrease is not on par with urban America. In fact, the incidence of cervical, lung, and colorectal are still higher in rural America, as are death rates from cervical, prostate, colorectal, and lung cancers.”

Further complicating these concerns is that there is evidence for under-diagnosis of some cancers in rural counties. Part of the solution, Dr. Tinguely said, is not only to recruit and retain more oncologists to rural regions, but to train medical oncology and hematology physicians locally for practice in a rural setting.

Enter the new fellowship, which will be the first accredited program for hematology and oncology in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

The neurology residency has accepted three residents this year for its four-year program and will have three residents per year. The three-year hematology-oncology fellowship will take two post-graduate fellows per year.

In contrast with a residency, a fellowship is a program for physicians who have completed a residency in a related specialty. The new UND-Sanford hematology-oncology fellowship is accepting fellows who have already completed a three-year internal medicine residency.

“The UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences has been a strong advocate for a ‘grow your own’ approach to addressing the healthcare workforce needs of North Dakota,” said Dr. Joshua Wynne, vice president for Health Affairs at UND and dean of the SMHS. “These two new programs are the latest contributions to that approach, and the beneficiaries will be the people of the state and region.”

David Theige, medical director of graduate medical education at Sanford Health, said, “The expansion of Sanford Medical Education in partnership with UND reflects our commitment to excellence and meeting the needs of our rural communities by training more physicians for generations to come. These new programs will enable us to bring vital expertise to our region and enhance the health and well-being of the communities we serve.”