For Your Health
For Your Health

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

From the Dean: Updating Bismarck on our health future

As I mentioned in last week’s column, we met with Governor Burgum and his executive leadership team yesterday as part of a strategic review process that is utilized by the Governor and the executive branch to plan for North Dakota’s future. First, President Armacost, accompanied by the university’s vice presidents, presented on behalf of UND as a whole. Then I presented on behalf of the UND SMHS. The presentations seemed to go very well, and there was productive interaction. These sessions help the governor frame the executive budget that he will recommend to the legislature for the upcoming biennium beginning July 1, 2023. As you probably know, the next legislative session begins this coming January.

As outlined briefly last week, my strategy presentation had two fundamental themes: 1) Build on success; and 2) Be the future. The idea is to “double down” on our current programing to further grow, expand, and optimize our already successful enterprises in education, discovery, and service. In the discovery/research front, for example, we plan to expand our already productive research program to further benefit the people of North Dakota, particularly in the areas of aging, epigenetics, viral diseases (“host-pathogen interactions”), and neurodegenerative disease (especially Alzheimer’s).

But we also need to do new and different things if we want to own the future. Rather than simply reacting, we need to anticipate trends before they become reality. There are a variety of areas where I think we can do this, including virtual care, telehealth, and wearable/home devices; the use of autonomous systems in healthcare; the further development of translational (“bench to bedside”) research; and the development of a network of clinical research units (CRUs). Led by Dr. Warne and his colleagues in the Department of Indigenous Health, we have a major research initiative underway to study the impact of historical trauma on Indigenous health. One aspect that could be ground-breaking is studying the possible role of epigenetic factors in connecting the current generation of Indigenous people with their ancestors’ past adverse experiences. Finally, we plan to expand the healthcare and research workforce to be more inclusive and diverse.

This plan for the future really seemed to resonate well with the governor and his team. They asked insightful questions and seemed to be quite supportive of the direction of the SMHS as outlined in the strategy session.

And speaking of planning for the future, I’m pleased to indicate that, based on a recommendation from Jed Shivers, UND’s Vice President for Finance and Administration and Mike Pieper, Associate Vice President for Facilities, President Armacost has approved the initiation of a space study for the SMHS to look at three related issues: 1) finding alternate space for wet- and dry-laboratory needs, especially given the eventual closing of Columbia Hall (where currently we have active lab operations); 2) identifying more non-laboratory space, given the growth in particular of Indigenous programming and activities in the Center for Rural Health; and 3) looking broadly at facilities-related issues for health affairs programs and programming in the long-term.

It is anticipated that this space study will be completed before the end of 2022 and will help guide planning for the future. As I’ve said before, stay tuned!

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