For Your Health
For Your Health

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

From the Dean: Our end-of-year reporting

We held the pre-legislative session of the UND SMHS Advisory Council this past Wednesday in Bismarck. It was a hybrid event, with most participants joining virtually. We were fortunate, however, to have all four members of the Council who are legislators present in person. They were in Bismarck to attend, with their colleagues, the pre-session events that took place for all legislators from Dec. 5 – 7.

By the way, in case you are not familiar with it, the UND SMHS Advisory Council is specified in the North Dakota Century Code (NDCC) and is composed of members who represent a variety of health-related entities from across the state, including two representatives and two senators from the North Dakota legislature. The specified expectation of the Council is that it reviews and advises the SMHS, UND, the legislature, and others about the programs and strategic direction of the School. Thus, it is important that we get buy-in and support from the Council regarding our various initiatives, activities, and programs. Importantly, we look for the Council’s endorsement of our budget request that goes to the legislature before each biennium.

Our meeting started with a review by Brian Schill, director of our Office of Alumni and Community Relations, of the recently released Vital Signs 2022, a compendium that we publish each year that outlines the progress and status of the programs of the SMHS. By the way, when clinicians talk about a patient’s vital signs, they are referring to the patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature – metrics that tell us how well the patient is doing. Similarly, the Vital Signs publication gives us a perspective as to how well the SMHS is doing. You can review Vital Signs 2022 in its entirety here, but I thought that it might be helpful if I provided a summary and an overview.

In the area of education, our students continue to perform at a high level. Every one of our academic programs boasts a national board certification examination pass rate that is at or above national averages. A stellar example of this high achievement level is the National Board of Medical Examiners Step 1 pass rate for our medical students, where a 100% pass rate was reported for students matriculating after 2019! This impressive pass rate is due to the hard work of our students to be sure but has been positively impacted by a variety of intentional curricular and programmatic improvements.

Importantly, our clinician graduates are staying or returning to North Dakota to practice in increasing numbers over the years. One of the most dramatic examples of this increased retention is for medical student graduates. Not long ago, we retained significantly fewer of our graduates for in-state practice than other medical schools in the U.S. We were around the 25th percentile, meaning that three-quarters of medical schools had higher in-state retention rates. In the course of less than a decade, we’ve gone from around the 25th percentile up to the 75th percentile – that is, from well below average to well above. As a consequence, the fraction of doctors practicing in the state who graduated from the SMHS and/or participated in one of our residency programs has increased over time.

We see analogous impressive results for our research enterprise, where our total funding for the recently completed fiscal year (FY) 2022 set a new record for sponsored funding at $48.7 million. This is up dramatically from $38.5 million in FY 2021 and $30.8 million in FY 2020 – a 58 percent increase over two years!

One of the reasons for the substantial increase in sponsored funding at the SMHS is due to the impressive growth in contracts awarded to the faculty and staff in the School’s Center for Rural Health (CRH). That funding is used to assist North Dakotans throughout the state in addressing healthcare issues impacted by our rural setting, and it grew to $18.3 million in FY 2022, up from $10.5 million in FY 2021 and $10.4 million in FY 2020 – a 76 percent increase!

The other important presentation was by Mandi-Leigh Peterson of the School’s Healthcare Workforce Group. She presented information that has been gathered over the past two years and compiled and analyzed for the Seventh Biennial Report 2023 – Health Issues for the State of North Dakota. This is a document that the Advisory Council has released every two years (in accordance with the NDCC) just prior to the start of the legislative session each January in odd-numbered years. You can access the prior Report for 2021 here.

As you can see, the Report is a comprehensive review of health and healthcare in North Dakota. New for 2023 is a chapter on pandemic planning and public health, outlining the state’s response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and lessons learned, with a detailed analysis of how the UND SMHS both assisted with the pandemic response (especially our Master of Public Health program) and adjusted its educational offerings in response to the various mitigation strategies that were needed. Overall, the Report shows that there are continuing improvements ongoing in general in both health and healthcare in North Dakota, but more needs to be done.

The Report concludes with recommendations going forward. One essential area requiring even more attention and planning is the behavioral and mental health crisis that is impacting communities and families across the state, whether in rural or urban areas.

Both Vital Signs and the draft version of the Report were well-received by the council. The Council plans to meet again before the end of the month to formally approve the Report so that it can be released in time for the legislative session as a resource for use by the legislative members and their staff (along with many others across the state).

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