This past Wednesday morning while driving to work, I had the great pleasure of watching the blue moon eclipse while listening to Beethoven’s 7th symphony on the radio. It was a magical experience to watch the majesty unfolding in the heavens while listening to one of my favorite musical pieces here on earth. If you are not familiar with it, the Seventh is a really fantastic composition, with a raucous and energetic final movement that ends emphatically with Beethoven’s first use of a triple forte (fff). His score for the horns in this piece is amazing.
Once the piece had concluded, I mused about the emotional impact the eclipse and the music had on me. I thought about the prior eclipses that have occurred since the beginning of time, and the fact that a musician who wrote a piece more than 200 years ago could still have such an impact on me (and others) two centuries later. It reminded me that we strive to make a difference in what we do and make a difference that will be enduring.
So that leads me to Thursday’s Giving Hearts Day (Feb. 8), when you will have an opportunity to make an enduring impact on the life of an SMHS student. Please consider making a donation to the School’s Giving Hearts Scholarship fund so that we can continue to reduce our students’ debt load. You can have that impact on the life of a student by going to givingheartsday.org and donating what you can. Thanks to the generosity of the Dakota Medical Foundation and its President Pat Traynor, we now will be able to offer at least three $12,500 scholarships. And for those of you who can make a larger donation, you will have the chance to have one of the scholarships named for you or your family. For each $1,000 donation, donors will get one chance in the drawing for naming rights. The scholarships will be awarded to at least three students randomly chosen from all full-time SMHS students who register by completing a short questionnaire on the undalumni.org/givinghearts website.
And why do I repeatedly emphasize the importance of mitigating student debt through philanthropy? Some hot-off-the-press data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) provide strong evidence for the value of reducing medical student debt. The AAMC annually surveys entering medical students from across the country on a variety of topics. Over 12,000 students matriculating this past fall responded to one recent AAMC questionnaire that asked them about various factors that are important to them when they think about their career path after medical school—specifically, what residency and specialty area they are thinking about. The first thing that is noteworthy about the survey results is what the students do not consider important. The two considerations that were ranked lowest by the students were the social reputation or status of a given specialty, and high-income potential. Those factors just weren’t particularly important to most students.
What was important were work-life balance; a stable, secure future; and ability to pay off debt. Taking the two latter items together—stable, secure future and ability to pay off debt—emphasizes why debt mitigation is so important if we want our students to follow their passion and enter specialties that focus on primary care, especially in rural areas. It isn’t that students necessarily gravitate to the high-income-potential specialties, but they are concerned about the possible downside of entering a less lucrative specialty while saddled with enormous debt. So please help us reduce the debt barrier so our students can do what they want to do and not have to worry about paying their bills.
The AAMC data contained another welcome statistic. For the first time ever, the number of women entering medical schools across the U.S. exceeded the number of men. The national incoming medical school class of 2021 that started this past fall is composed of 50.7 percent females and 49.3 percent males. However, while announcing and celebrating this encouraging statistic, AAMC President Darrell Kirch lamented the “glass ceiling” effect in medical schools across the U.S., where only 25 of 149 deans (17 percent) are women, along with only 17 percent of all department chairs.
Here at the UND SMHS, two of five members of the associate dean senior management team and three out of six of our health sciences departmental chairs are women, a 45/55 percent split. Not bad, I’d say, although all but one of our clinical departmental chairs are men. Taken all together, six of 21 (29 percent) of our deans and chairs at the School are women—still not where I’d like it to be, but more than two-thirds better than the 17 percent national rate. And of the 10 people who report directly to me (deans and directors), four (40 percent) are women.
Finally, I hope that you had a chance to attend/see the Dean’s Hour presentation yesterday. UND SMHS alumnus, Center for Rural Health founder, and former UND faculty member Dr. Kevin Fickenscher was our speaker and Visiting Professor for the day. Kevin has been a major player in helping various health care institutions transform their operations and prepare for the future. His fascinating talk was on “The Health Care Transformation Imperative…Embracing the value of Telecare.” If you didn’t have a chance to see this terrific presentation—which one faculty member called “one of the best I’ve ever seen”—it is available here.
Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
UND Vice President for Health Affairs
Dean, UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences