From The Dean

  • Friday, September 15, 2017
  • From The Dean

I hope that you enjoyed my last column discussing some of the foundations of the American health insurance system. I’ve heard from some of you, and thank you for your positive comments. We plan to have more discussions about health care and health insurance in future issues of E-News.

Until then, here are some updates of activities that have been occurring at your UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Our Simulation Center helped us celebrate Healthcare Simulation Week with an open house this past Monday. The Center was open to the public, and the turnout was strong. Visitors were treated to multiple clinical scenarios that were demonstrated using the patient simulators. They followed a fictitious patient by the name of Jimmy from his birth through an asthma attack as a child through an injury as an adult that required surgery. The last stop for participants was outside at one of the four SIM-ND mobile simulation labs that we use to bring health care education to rural areas of the state. Last year, more than 4,000 learners from across North Dakota participated in simulation scenarios and education thanks to SIM-ND.

This week’s Dean’s Hour speaker was our own Dr. Andy McLean, clinical professor and chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, who addressed some of the challenges and successes in the treatment of individuals involved in the opioid epidemic. He spoke on “Medical-Assisted Treatment of Opioid Addiction.” We had a fantastic turn-out, with almost 300 people attending (including about a dozen online); we had to move about three dozen participants to an overflow room for seating! The audience included folks from across campus and the community. It was great to see Pete Haga from the Mayor’s Office as well as Debbie Swanson, the director of the Department of Public Health in Grand Forks, in attendance as well.

As you know, there has been a significant increase in substance-abuse-related complications and death in the past few years—and not just in large urban areas. In fact, the current opioid epidemic, because of both prescription and illicit drug use, is impacting rural states like ours in a profound way. For example, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, deaths from opioid overdose more than doubled in North Dakota in the decade from 2004 to 2014. The School has taken the initiative in helping to address a contributor to the problem, which is the abuse of prescription narcotics. If you’d like to learn more, please enroll here (it just takes a minute) to access six (soon to be seven) video tutorials on this topic. And for physicians, you even get continuing medical education (CME) credit for viewing the videos.

Governor Burgum and the First Lady have made this problem a focus of their attention. I will be joining Dr. McLean, colleagues from the School and University, and concerned citizens from across the state at a symposium called Recovery Reinvented in Bismarck on Sept. 26 to discuss what more we can all do to address this crisis. If you have time, please try to join us.

I shared a cup of coffee with faculty and staff on the Northeast (Grand Forks) Campus yesterday during the latest Java with Josh get-together. There were good questions (and, I hope, good discussion from me!) about a variety of issues. One great question from professor Gary Schwartz was about the School’s strategic plan and what we can do to make it more concrete, with better defined outcome measures. As it turns out, we will be starting to work on this in the near future. As I’ve discussed before, the recent release of UND’s new strategic plan means that we need to integrate our own game plan for the future into the seven goals of the UND plan. And we need to come up with measurable outcome variables that we track over time. You’ll hear more about this process soon, but I invite and encourage you to be involved as we chart our course more precisely over the next few years.

Finally, we have a variety of searches gearing up to identify candidates for several key SMHS positions that are vacant due to retirements. Perhaps the most important is the search for the next associate dean for Administration and Finance. As you know, Randy Eken retired in June after ably serving the School and UND for decades. One of the important aspects of the position is that it oversees not only the finances of the School but also all of our non-academic operations, including the operations at our regional campuses. To reflect this important dual responsibility, the new associate dean also will be called our chief operating officer (COO), a position found routinely in firms outside of education. For example, Brad Wehe, DPT, is the COO of Altru Health System here in Grand Forks.

We will be announcing several other searches soon, and I’ll keep you updated on the progress of those searches. Because there will be several searches going on simultaneously, we’ll use our website to consolidate information about the various searches (especially information about public forums and similar opportunities for faculty and staff to meet the candidates and provide feedback). More to come soon!

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
UND Vice President for Health Affairs

Dean, UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences