For Your Health

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

Leah Thompson named North Dakota’s top clinical preceptor by UND medical students

Dr. Leah Thompson, psychiatrist at Southeast Human Service Center in Fargo, N.D., has been named the 2022 namesake preceptor for the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences (SMHS) Preceptor Recognition Student Scholarship Program.

The scholarship program, funded by a $100,000 endowment at the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, produces more than $3,000 annually for medical student scholarships. It allows fourth-year medical students to select their favorite preceptor (or clinical instructor) based on their third-year clinical rotations, making this award effectively the “best preceptor in the state” award.

“I am extremely surprised and honored to receive this award,” said Thompson, a former psychiatrist at the North Dakota State Hospital in Jamestown. “I have been so impressed by the UND students I’ve had the honor to work with, particularly by the empathy and dedication they have shown while caring for patients at the state hospital.”

The Twin Cities native earned her M.D. from the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine in 2017. Opting to spend her residency years in Fargo as part of the SMHS Psychiatry Residency Training Program, Thompson entered practice as a board certified psychiatrist in 2021.

Having experienced a hemorrhagic stroke caused by a benign brain tumor at age 11, though, such a career path was far from certain, she said. Despite years of therapy, Thompson still manages a handful of physical challenges, including left-sided leg and arm weakness and vision loss.

This experience contributed, in part, to Thompson’s interest in neuroscience and behavioral health.

“I understand that students face challenges and self-doubt during medical school, and I am open and honest with them regarding the struggles I faced during my training, including as a physician with a significant physical disability,” added Thompson, who initially thought she might choose neurology as a specialty. “During medical school, I found learning patients’ stories and social history the most interesting part of the clinical interview. I had the opportunity to care for several acutely mentally ill patients during my psychiatry clerkship who inspired me to go into psychiatry.”

Come graduation in May 2023, a scholarship will be given in Dr. Thompson’s name to the second-year UND medical student who earned the highest scores in the first 20 months (Phase 1) of their class’s four-year curriculum. Current third-year students will get an opportunity to select a different preceptor next year, and a student from the MD Class of 2026 will receive a scholarship in that new preceptor’s name in May 2024.

“This award is no surprise to me,” added Dr. Andrew McLean, chair of the SMHS Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science, who works closely with the School’s psychiatry residency. “We recognized what we had when Dr. Thompson interviewed with our residency, and we’re already looking for ways to keep her precepting for us in her new position.”

More than 1,300 part-time or volunteer clinical faculty in more than 30 communities throughout the state help to educate the nearly 300 medical students and residents based at the SMHS. In all, more than 70% of North Dakota physicians regularly teach at least one of the school’s students annually.

“Student debt remains a high priority for our School,” added Dr. Marc Basson, senior associate dean for medicine and research at the SMHS. “We are excited to have this dual opportunity to both recognize an outstanding faculty member and to be able to identify a high-performing student and help offset their debt. It’s hard to imagine a better honoree than Dr. Thompson for this ‘pay-it-forward’ sort of program, and we encourage our alumni to help us build this program as they’re able.”

In the end, says Thompson, it’s such engagement by preceptors and alumni that makes the difference for many medical students.

“It was the times when my attendings discussed uncertainty and showed me how to use problem solving skills and clinical resources to tackle challenging clinical decisions that I found most helpful,” she concluded. “And the opportunity now to work with medical students and help them grow both in their knowledge of psychiatry and patient care has been extremely rewarding.”

Individuals or organizations are invited to support UND’s Preceptor Recognition Student Scholarship Program at: undalumni.org/clinicalpreceptor.