For Your Health
For Your Health

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

From the Dean: Investing in Indigenous students

Kudos to all the health sciences students who graduated this past weekend. As I mentioned last week, the time was filled with many happy events, including two commencement ceremonies (one for graduate and the other for undergraduate degrees), hooding events for the students from occupational therapy, physical therapy, and physician assistant studies, and receptions for the master of public health and medical laboratory science students.

The commencement ceremonies were fun and especially emotional and impressive for the first-generation graduates. The two invited guest speakers both gave poignant talks. North Dakota Poet Laureate (and the recipient of three UND degrees) Denise Lajimodiere (middle row, right in image above) was the keynote speaker for both ceremonies. A citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in Belcourt, N.D., the award-winning poet, artist, and retired educator shared an inspiring message of personal perseverance and resilience with the audience.

During the undergraduate ceremony on Saturday afternoon, Werner Nistler was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. Nistler graduated from UND in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in accountancy and subsequently founded and developed Touchmark, now a large company that helps residents with retirement living accommodations and support. Werner and his wife Colleen (back row, left in image above) were the lead donors for the new College of Business and Public Administration building named in their honor. After receiving his honorary degree, Nistler provided a clear roadmap to the graduates for a path forward, emphasizing that they never give up and encouraging them to “build and live your dreams.” Congratulations Dr. Nistler, and thanks to both Denise and Werner for their wonderful talks!

Kudos also are in order to the medical students who were just awarded an Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Honor Medical Society Medical Student Service Leadership Project Grant award for 2023. Their project is titled “Honoring the Seventh Generation: A student doctor approach to leadership and respect for Indigenous cultures.” Dr. Cornelius “Mac” Dyke, chair of our Department of Surgery and the UND SMHS Councilor for our chapter of the AOA Medical Honor Society, had this comment: “Congratulations to the UND student team that put together this fantastic submission. I am very pleased national AOA recognized its excellence with this prestigious award and thank you to the students for bringing this award to UND SMHS. I am proud of all the students on the team; thank you for your work and dedication to this leadership project honoring the Seventh Generation. Now the fun part: the work begins!” Well said, Mac. And congratulations again for all involved.

Finally, it is with great joy that I share that President Armacost and UND’s Strategic Investment Committee have approved a request by our Indians Into Medicine (INMED) program for additional funds for the INMED Summer Institute. Developed by INMED Director Dr. Dan Henry, INMED project manager Danielle Thompson, and Summer Institute coordinator Brittany Belgarde, the proposal outlines how an investment in an expanded Summer Institute can and will draw many more Indigenous students to UND. This opening up of the pathway to health training for more Indigenous middle and high school students from across the nation will help UND recruit, retain, and subsequently graduate more Indigenous health professions students. All of this will eventually mean even more Indigenous providers of all sorts, which will go a long way in helping reduce the health disparities affecting the Indigenous community, relative to non-Indigenous communities. Even more, such an investment signals both a renewed interest in and support of INMED, Indigenous programming in general, and the entire Indigenous student population at UND.

Excellent work, Team INMED. And as Dr. Dyke stated in his email to me yesterday morning with the news of the AOA award, all of the events and accomplishments I’ve discussed here make us all #UNDProud!

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