For Your Health
For Your Health

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

From the Dean: A wonderful week

Yesterday marked the 42nd annual Frank Low Research Day at the School, and this year our premier research event was again virtual. Presentations by faculty members, postdoctoral fellows, residents, and graduate, medical, and health sciences students were prerecorded and then aired during the meeting, with subsequent live video discussion with members of the audience.

Named in honor of the former SMHS anatomy professor who came to UND in the 1960s and pioneered a series of new techniques for the electron microscope, Frank Low Research Day is the culminating event of the academic year for many area researchers working in the biomedical and health sciences fields.

One of the highlights of the meeting was the (virtual) presentation by Jon R. Lorsch, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) at the National Institutes of Health, which was entitled “NIGMS Programs and Priorities.” As NIGMS Director, Dr. Lorsch oversees the Institute’s $3 billion budget that supports basic research that increases understanding of biological processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

The SMHS derives substantial financial support through competitive grants from the NIGMS, which is an important partner in our discovery mission. As an aside, we also have substantial grants through other institutes at the NIH; the total budget of the NIH approaches $50 billion and has enjoyed unparalleled bipartisan support in Washington and around the nation over the years. Let’s hope that support continues in the future!

In any case, Dr. Lorsch’s talk was wonderful and outlined all the important work the NIGMS does, from workforce development and training to lab safety research initiatives and diversity advocacy. On this last issue, NIGMS sponsors a program—the Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH)—that is directly relevant to much of what we do here at UND. The portion of Dr. Lorch’s talk that discussed the NARCH was almost serendipitous in that it anticipated today’s event—the first annual Indigenous Trauma & Resilience Research Center’s (ITRRC) symposium, which is being held in conjunction with Frank Low Research Day. If you have time in your schedules, be sure to check out the symposium here.

Truly, the amount of outstanding research, innovation, and training happening at your UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences is amazing.

On another note, the virtual accreditation visit of our medical student program by the Liaison Committee on Medial Education (LCME) finally is here! Running from Monday through Wednesday of this coming week, the agenda starts at 8 a.m. on Monday when I meet with the survey team members and give an overview of the status of the SMHS and the medical education program. The five-person survey team will then meet with literally dozens of faculty, staff, and medical students in a series of meetings that will stretch through Wednesday morning. The visit concludes with a signoff at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

We will not get any feedback whatsoever from the survey team at that time; rather, we will get a short, written summary of their assessment within a week or so. A more formal report will follow, but nothing will be official until the LCME as a whole reviews all the data and makes its determination of accreditation status. That will take place at the October 2022 meeting of the LCME in Chicago, and we should learn of the results of the assessment shortly thereafter. So even when we finish the visit on Wednesday, we still will be somewhat up in the air for another six months until we get the formal report.

To that end, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the many people who have been working literally for years in our preparation for this visit. In particular, I’d like to recognize and thank Dr. Steve Tinguely, Chief Medical Accreditation Officer, for his leadership, guidance, hard work, and thoughtfulness in helping us prepare for this important visit. Ever since the most recent LCME visit in 2014, we have been continuously preparing for this upcoming visit, with these efforts coordinated by Dr. Tinguely and the colleagues who work directly with him. This is in stark contrast to the way we (and most other medical schools) used to do things, where there was a mad rush in the year or two before the visit to get ready. Now we engage in continuous quality assurance and improvement, and that’s a much better way to do things!

It is hard to know what the eventual determination of the LCME will be. We are well-prepared, but certainly there have been challenges, not the least of which have been a pandemic and the institution of a major (but needed) revision of the medical student curriculum. Had I been smart enough to know that the pandemic and the new curriculum would collide at the same time, we would have delayed the implementation of curricular modification. But now that it is done, our medical students will benefit from the multiple curricular improvements that have been implemented.

Finally, I think we all are looking forward to graduation time and the associated end-of-year events in May. At this point we remain hopeful that masking and other mitigation policies will be able to be lifted at that time, but we continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation quite closely and time will tell. I anticipate that we will make a final determination on these issues by the end of the month.

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