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UND medical school looks to make an impact despite ongoing pandemic

The number of physicians practicing in North Dakota who graduated from the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences or completed an in-state residency is also going up.

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All students, and especially those in the health professions, have been stressed by the pandemic, Dr. Joshua Wynne, dean of the UND medical school, said. The pandemic has disrupted their learning to some degree, but students in the health professions have also been around medical staff at hospitals who have also been stressed due to the workload of the pandemic. (Photo provided by the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences)

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the medical workforce hard over the past year and half, but the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences is doing what it can to help train future medical professionals while helping students deal with their own stress.

All students, and especially those in the health professions, have been stressed by the pandemic, Dr. Joshua Wynne, dean of the UND medical school, said. The pandemic has disrupted learning to some degree, but students in the health professions also have been around medical staff at hospitals who have also been stressed due to the workload of the pandemic.

“Fortunately, our students have been coping well, but it's been real,” Wynne said, noting that when he talks with students it’s clear the pandemic has had a negative impact on their ability to learn. He noted, however, that the medical school has been doing what it can to help students, including working with two wellness advocates to help students manage their stress.

And medical school is stressful on its own, Wynne noted.

But has all that stress made students reconsider their choice to go into the medical field?

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For the most part, no, Wynne says.

“Largely, students have become more committed,” he said, adding that the UND medical school has seen a large increase in applications since the beginning of the pandemic. “Despite the toll that it's taken emotionally and otherwise, if anything, we see students more focused on it, more attracted to it, rather than repelled from it.”

In January, the medical school reported a 40% uptick in applications compared to the same time last year and around a 25% increase over the past few years.

Earlier this year, Wynne told state legislators that the medical school had been steadily improving its retention rate. Compared to other medical schools, UND has gone from well below average retention rates in 2013 to well above average in 2020, Wynne said. In 2020, the school’s retention rate was better than more than two-thirds of medical schools in the U.S. About 86% of the students were either from North Dakota or have ties to the state.

The number of physicians practicing in North Dakota who graduated from the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, or completed an in-state residency, is also going up.

Wynne pointed to lower tuition rates than most of the country’s medical schools as a big factor in the rise in retention over the past seven years. In 2020, the cost to attend UND’s medical school for a student from North Dakota was lower than at nine out of 10 of the medical schools in the U.S., the Herald has previously reported.

Across all specialties, about 50% of practicing physicians in the state graduated from the UND medical school, according to a draft of the school’s 2021 Community Report. That’s up from 46% in 2019.

There also has been an increase in the percentage of UND medical school graduates in family medicine: 74% in 2019 to 78% in 2021.

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Internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and psychiatry have all seen a 3-4% increase in the last two years as well.

How do they do it?

Wynne says the medical school focuses on accepting students from North Dakota, and especially the rural part of the state.

“One of the best predictors of wanting to stay in state, especially in a rural area, is coming from in-state and rural areas,” he said.

Additionally, the school has students completing their clinical experiences in North Dakota and in rural areas so they can learn from role models who enjoy practicing in the state.

The UND medical school also tries to lower the financial burden for students so they aren’t tempted to go to the big cities to earn more money to more quickly pay off their student loans.

Sydney Mook has been the managing editor at the Herald since April 2021. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook has been with the Herald since May 2018 and was first hired as the Herald's higher education reporter where she covered UND and other happenings in state higher education. She was later promoted to community editor in 2019.


For story pitches contact her at smook@gfherald.com or call her at 701-780-1134.
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