From The Dean

  • Friday, August 03, 2018
  • From The Dean

I was off for a few days last week attending AirVenture 2018, the largest aviation event in the world. Sponsored by the Experimental Aviation Association, the event draws some 700,000 participants over the course of a week. It is held in Oshkosh, Wis., and a visit is like a pilgrimage for pilots. One of the highlights of my time there was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. I was pleased and honored to be recognized at the event by Aerospace Dean Paul Lindseth.

Although the nation is facing a pilot shortage that is expected to get worse as many of the current generation of airline and other pilots retire, the dozens and dozens of young smiling faces around the room was proof that the Odegard School is doing its best to help ensure an adequate supply of expertly trained and highly motived pilots in the future. Congratulations to all our colleagues across campus at the Odegard School, and best wishes for the future. By the way, there will be additional activities to celebrate the Odegard School’s 50th anniversary at UND's Homecoming 2018 in September.

Over the summer, there have been two notable—and I’m sure much appreciated—developments regarding the new building. The first is the installation (where needed) of window shades, particularly for exterior-facing windows, in the building. Some areas were so flooded with sunlight that it was difficult to see computer screens or conduct video-conferencing. And a few offices simply were too warm. The shades are a welcome addition. But perhaps even more appreciated is the imminent completion of a new parking lot to the southwest of the new building. Previously a gravel lot that held overflow parking, the space has been upgraded to a more appropriate concrete and asphalt lot that will open just in time for the influx of students after the summer lull. It looks beautiful, especially compared with the old gravel lot on a rainy or snowy day.

And our efforts to increase the health care workforce for the state have been buttressed by a hot-off-the-press story in Medscape, a widely read website launched in 1995 that provides access to medical information for physicians and other clinicians. Medscape ranked each state in the country as far as desirability for physician practice. The assessment looked at both work-related factors like compensation and burn-out, and home life factors like quality of life, taxes, average life-span, and cost of living. Based on these and other factors, a ranking was created of the 25 best and the five worst states to practice in 2018. And take a guess as to which state came out on top as the most desirable state for physician practice in the entire U.S.? Yup—good ol’ North Dakota! Among the practice-related factors that were highlighted include excellent compensation, low malpractice and burnout rates, and high-quality health care overall. The non-work related factors cited included a high sense of personal well-being, low taxes, excellent educational opportunities, and very low unemployment overall.

Of note is our relatively low doctor “burnout” rate, which was characterized in the article as a sense of “physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion.” It turns out that North Dakota has the fifth lowest burnout rate for physicians in the country; interestingly, all four of the states with even lower burnout rates also have significant rural (and even frontier) regions. And even though we have a relatively low physician burnout rate, it still is 33 percent, meaning that one in three of our physicians is struggling. Now that’s not like Kentucky, for example, where the rate is one in two, but it’s still something about which we (and others) are concerned. There are various programs around the state that are helping to address the burnout problem.

But the bottom line is that according to even outside observers North Dakota is the most desirable state in which to practice medicine. This fact buttresses the many ongoing efforts of the UND SMHS and other institutions to ensure an adequate health care workforce now and in the future for all regions of the state, urban and rural.

Finally, it was an absolute pleasure to wander through the summer undergraduate research poster session held yesterday at the School. Thirty undergraduates, many from UND, presented the results of the summer research they conducted in conjunction with their mentor scientists from the UND Department of Biology, the SMHS Departments of Pathology and Biomedical Sciences, and Cankdeska Cikana Community College. Topics included the role cadmium plays in cancer development, the gut microflora of honeybees, and the genetics of depression. Not only does this exceptional program serve as a “pipeline” program helping us recruit students from rural and tribal colleges for future participation in UND graduate research programs, but it helps us identify students who might make great future medical students. Thanks to all the faculty who helped make this event happen.

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