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UND's medical school announces new Department of Indigenous Health

The establishment of the new department within UND’s medical school will serve as a hub for programs put in place in 2019. Those programs include a Ph.D. in Indigenous Health, which was introduced with great interest in 2020, and the recently announced Indigenous Trauma and Resilience Research Center.

Donald Warne.jpg
Donald Warne

UND’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences has announced the creation of the world’s first Department of Indigenous Health.

The establishment of the new department within UND’s medical school will serve as a hub for programs put in place in 2019. Those programs include a Ph.D. in Indigenous Health, which was introduced with great interest in 2020, and the recently announced Indigenous Trauma and Resilience Research Center. The center was the result of a $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. Along with the school’s new practice-based research network, the programs will be known as the American Indian Collaborative Research Network, called AICoRN.

“What’s being built here is unprecedented,” said Don Warne, an associate dean at the UND medical school, director of the Indians Into Medicine program and director of the masters of public health program. “Nothing like this exists in the world.”

Warne said UND has had a long history of Indigenous programs, beginning with the Indians Into Medicine program that began in 1973. Adding a full department to SMSH gives researchers the opportunity to focus their education, service and training opportunities on Indigenous health and health equity.

“It creates a unique platform to expand the innovative work we’re already doing, and explore more innovative programs,” Warne said.

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AICoRN is a growing network of health providers in the region looking to do clinical research in a focused, community-based way. According to AICoRN director Dr. Allison Kelliher, practice-based research networks are not a new concept in the country, but until now, there were no such networks representing North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

Kelliher, a family medicine physician affiliated with the Koyukon Athabascan tribe, said she found the prospect of conducting collaborative work, in the context of a standalone Department of Indigenous Health, too compelling to pass up.

“We’re developing that network of practices and providers interested in creating a body of research and pursuing questions to benefit Indigenous population health,” said Kelliher. “This will require partnership with as many tribal stakeholders as are interested, (including) tribal, urban and Indian Health Service settings across our four states, in addition to collaborating internationally.”

Kelliher said networks like AICoRN, in collaboration with the new Department of Indigenous Health, can help reduce the decades-long lag time it takes to transform clinical research into patient therapies.

According to Warne, another focus of the program will be to provide research mentorship to early-career faculty, to establish them as independent investigators. This, he said, will lead to ripple effects in terms of additional grants, studies, resources, and programs through UND.

Dr. Joshua Wynne, vice president for health affairs at UND and dean of the SMHS, lauded the concept of the new department.

“Yet again, Dr. Warne and his colleagues are putting principle into practice and are implementing programs and approaches that are almost certain to have a material and important impact on the lives of Indigenous people,” Wynne said. “By improving the lives of some of us, he and his colleagues are improving the lives of all of us.”

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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