For Your Health
For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

From the Dean: The State of the School

This past Wednesday I had the privilege of delivering the annual “State of the School” address at the Faculty Assembly. It was (again) a virtual event and we had great turnout, with over 100 individuals participating. I outlined my assessment of where we are as a school, and, importantly, where we hope to go in the future. During my presentation, I used a slide deck that included material we will use next Thursday, March 10, 2022, when Governor Burgum convenes a series of meetings with leadership from all agencies in the state that receive appropriated funding from the legislature (like higher education and the SMHS). I will follow President Armacost, who will present on behalf of UND, and I’ll address issues related specifically to the SMHS. My presentation starts with an assessment of the status of the School at present, then proceeds to where we hope to go and concludes with a discussion of the impact of the pandemic and where the School should go regarding masking requirements and related mitigation strategies. I reference too the recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated guidelines that were released a week ago today, and I include in my slide deck several slides from the CDC website that outline the rationale for and a summary of its modified recommendations. My talk Wednesday concluded with an opportunity to solicit feedback from the assembled audience regarding recommendations for what the SMHS might do going forward about mask requirements. I also invited any questions or comments about anything in my presentation or about activities at the School in general.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve received a variety of comments with suggestions about the School’s masking policy going forward, and I’m still processing that feedback. In last week’s column I indicated that after getting that feedback, we’d release an updated statement about masking and mitigation by today. But in thinking about it further, I’d like to allow time for any additional comments to come in before issuing an update. Accordingly, I plan to delay the mask update until Monday to allow for as much input as possible.

As to the status of the SMHS, my assessment (and that of multiple external observers) is that, thanks to your efforts and those of many others, the School is doing an outstanding job of fulfilling the expectations of the people of North Dakota as embodied in the purpose statement for the School as enshrined in the Century Code: to educate, discover, and serve. In my talk, I highlighted the many people that we serve: obviously, first and foremost, our students and trainees; our faculty and staff; underserved people in the state; healthcare providers; the people of North Dakota; and, especially through our research and scholarly efforts, the world beyond.

Our biennial budget is approaching a quarter of a billion dollars, and the majority of our support is self-generated through grants and contracts, clinical and related income, philanthropy, and tuition. But we are extremely grateful for the extraordinarily robust support from the State that accounts for over a third of our total available revenue (see image).

As far as where we go from here, I emphasized two themes for the future of the SMHS: 1) build on success – that is, keep doing the many successful things we already do, but double down on what we are doing so successfully; and 2) be the future – specifically, anticipate the future and do those things that will be valuable going forward. I quoted that famous philosopher Wayne Gretzky (the hockey legend known as the Great One) who reportedly said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it is.” Some examples that I highlighted include a renewed focus on telehealth, exploration of autonomous systems in healthcare delivery, an expanded focus on translational (“bench to bedside”) research, and the associated development of a network of clinical research units.

And speaking of both budgets and the future, we held a virtual welcome reception for our new Associate Dean for Administration and Finance and Chief Operating Officer, Namil Choi, yesterday. Let me again emphasize how excited I am that Namil has joined the SMHS family. There was a blizzard in Grand Forks County on Namil’s first day, back on Monday, Feb. 1, 2022, and UND was actually closed. But despite the weather, there was Namil, reporting for duty and undeterred by the elements on day one. If that is the sort of effort he brings to SMHS operations, we’re in good hands indeed.

The bottom line is that the state of the SMHS is outstanding, and its future looks bright!

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