For Your Health
For Your Health

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

Remembering Richard Vari

I begin this week’s column again on a sad note. Last week, Dr. Richard Vari passed away after a valiant but brief battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a terrible progressive neurodegenerative disease that also is called Lou Gehrig’s disease after the famous baseball player who also succumbed to it. Rick was one of the first faculty members I met here nearly two decades ago when I was being recruited to the School. Rick was a master medical educator, and he spearheaded our School’s renowned small group patient centered learning program. He was recruited to Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in 2008 as one of the founding faculty members to coordinate development of the medical curriculum at the then brand-new medical school. He was highly acclaimed for his pedagogical contributions and was the recipient of the Alpha Omega Alpha Robert J. Glaser Distinguished Teacher Award from the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges. More recently, the International Association of Medical Science Educators honored him with the Edward Patrick Finnerty Lifetime Achievement Award. I last saw him (virtually) last fall at a retirement ceremony organized by the Carilion School of Medicine. At that ceremony, it was announced that an endowed lectureship in Rick’s name was established at Virginia Tech. If you would like to contribute, please click here (Online Giving | Virginia Tech (

We are busy getting ready for the start of the new academic year. As a result of the major curricular change that we’ve been implementing over the last few years, the new medical student class of 2026 starts just after the July 4th weekend. It surely will be exciting to see all of the incoming freshman medical students, to be followed soon after by our starting and returning medical, health sciences and graduate students. Let’s just hope that the pandemic continues to move toward endemic status and that we can continue and even expand our in-person activities. However, a note of caution – the recent trends are not in the right direction, and I think we may well experience at least an uptick – if not a spike – in cases this fall. For now, we continue to operate the School carefully, with an encouragement but not a requirement to wear masks indoors.

We have a number of searches ongoing for new faculty members as a consequence of programmatic growth at the SMHS. This is a good challenge to have, but the workforce shortages in everyday life of which you are well aware also apply to academic searches such as ours. We are getting the searches into high gear but it sure is a competitive environment for talent out there! We do have some notable advantages compared with many other institutions. In fact, an outstanding candidate who we were able to recruit earlier this year mentioned the attraction of the more relaxed family lifestyle that is possible here in North Dakota compared to the big city environment as an important factor in their recruitment. So, take that, New York City and Los Angeles!

Finally, as this academic year comes to a close, I want to again thank all of our dedicated faculty and staff who work so hard to make special the educational experiences of our medical, health sciences, and graduate students, as well as discover new knowledge and provide service to the citizens of North Dakota and the region. Special thanks again to the more than 1,300 physicians from around that state who volunteer to teach our medical students in the clinics and hospitals that they staff throughout North Dakota. That’s more than two out of three of all the practicing physicians in the state. We couldn’t do it without you! Many thanks!