For Your Health
For Your Health

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

From the Dean: Fifteen remarkable years

What a memorable, exciting, and uplifting Homecoming 2023! Last week was chock-full of events hosted by UND, the UND SMHS, and the UND Alumni Association and Foundation (UNDAAF). Two big events for the School took place last Friday, with a wonderful continuing education symposium in the morning focusing on wellness and then an evening Homecoming Banquet where we celebrated the 30-year history of the Department of Athletic Training as well as welcoming graduates from a wide variety of our programs, including 60-year medical school graduate Dr. Cecil Chally! Susan and I had a wonderful time chatting with many graduates of the SMHS along with current faculty, staff, and students. We had almost 100 participants join us for the largest Homecoming Banquet in recent memory.

Emblematic of the upward trajectory of all three organizations and the associated sense of excitement that is evident across campus was the announcement by the UNDAAF last Friday of the public phase of its capital campaign, with a goal of raising $500 million – that’s half a billion dollars, with a “B”! The announcement was made jointly by UND President Andy Armacost and UNDAAF CEO DeAnna Carlson-Zink during the Forever Starts Here: A Celebration for the Future event. About 70 percent of the $500 million goal already has been raised during the so-called silent phase of the campaign. But this lofty goal should be achievable given the palpable sense of energy, momentum, and pride that is apparent across campus, in the community, and throughout the extended UND family in North Dakota and beyond.

Further evidence of the energy and sense of mission that is evident everywhere on campus were the decisive victories of the Fighting Hawks football and hockey teams last Saturday. Go Hawks!

We as a school and university clearly are headed in the right direction, and at an accelerating pace, especially since President Andy Armacost took over the helm of the University a little over three years ago. Thus, I feel so comfortable and confident about the future of the SMHS to announce that I plan to step down as Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean of the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences approximately a year from now. The one-year window will allow me, working with the entire SMHS team, to complete a variety of unfinished tasks, as well as allow sufficient time for a national search to take place for my successor. That said, I’m not stepping away from UND completely next year – I’ll be returning to the faculty ranks (I’m a tenured professor), albeit at a reduced FTE level.

Susan and I have been talking about such a change for some time, and Andy has been incredibly supportive as I’ve struggled (quite frankly) to balance my love for the SMHS and its people, along with my true joy in coming to work every day, with the reality that change is good for an organization and that the time demands of the job have limited (to some extent) our ability to travel, visit our grandkids, and pursue other “outside” interests. It is generally accepted that it is a best practice in the business world to change CEOs at or before 15 years – which is exactly where I’ll be next summer! I started as Interim Dean of the SMHS in May 2009 and was appointed “permanent” dean a year later. When I step down, I will have been a doctor for 53 years and a cardiologist for 47. I am the eighth longest serving medical school dean in the U.S. (out of 156 deans); interestingly, the average tenure of such deans currently is only about four and a half years!

As I contemplate this major change in my life, I think back on the remarkable experience and opportunity that I’ve had here – and smile with satisfaction. I have such a feeling of accomplishment and true joy to be in the company of such a remarkable SMHS family, broadly defined. None of the remarkable accomplishments of the SMHS over the past 15 years would have been possible without the amazing efforts of our faculty, staff, and students. And while the list of people at the SMHS whom I want to thank dearly is long, at the top of the list is Dr. Judy Solberg, our Chief of Staff, and the person who knows how I’ll likely react in any situation better than anyone else besides Susan and my immediate family members. I plan to thank all on the list as we get closer to the changeover.

Also critically important for the successes of the School over the past 15 years have been the terrific and productive working relationships we’ve had with UND leadership (especially President Armacost), the North Dakota University System and the State Board of Higher Education, the members of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly, numerous healthcare professionals throughout the state who help educate our students, the leadership of the various healthcare delivery organizations across the state, the many generous donors to the SMHS through the UNDAAF, and the members of our extended community – the people of North Dakota.

And what a decade and a half it has been! What we have achieved – working together – truly has been remarkable. Among the many accomplishments we’ve recorded, a few stand out:

  • Full implementation of the Healthcare Workforce Initiative, with an expansion of student class sizes by about 25 percent and the addition of more than 60 medical residency slots across the state – an increase of more than 37 percent!
  • The creation of six new academic departments, along with the initiation of new programs in Indigenous Health, public health, and the world’s first Ph.D. in Indigenous Health.
  • The addition of an Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, an Associate Dean for Wellness, and an Assistant Dean for Gender Equity (the only college or school at UND that has such positions).
  • A dramatic increase in research productivity, with an overall 62 percent increase in sponsored funding between 2012 and 2022.
  • A major revision of the medical student curriculum in response to student requests and suggestions. Accreditation of the Occupational Therapy Doctorate, Master of Athletic Training, and reaffirmation of accreditation for all health profession programs.
  • Impressive growth in philanthropic contributions to the UNDAAF that benefit the School and have enabled us to add endowed chairs that have helped us to recruit and retain the brightest and best faculty as well as reduce student debt though an impressive increase in student scholarships. Consequently, medical student debt at graduation has fallen from well above the national average to well below in just over a decade.
  • And a spectacular new building on the central UND campus in Grand Forks that we opened in 2016 that continues to provide a marvelous home for our educational, research, and service activities.

As things progress over the next year, we will keep you informed as the changeover gets closer. And for any of my patients who may be wondering, yes, I plan to continue my cardiology practice even after I step down from the SMHS Dean role next year.

Most important of all, thank you all for your interest in and support of your UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences!

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