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Joshua Wynne and David Molmen, Published May 11 2013

Letter: A new era for medical education

What an exciting era we are entering at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Thanks to the support of the North Dakota Legislature and leadership from Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, the school will soon be implementing the Health Care Workforce Initiative and constructing a new home. The HWI is a four-pronged plan to help address North Dakota’s health care workforce needs now and in the future by reducing disease burden, retaining more of our graduates for practice in North Dakota, training more practitioners, and improving the efficiency of our health care delivery system.

The degree of financial support from the Legislature is unprecedented. The new facility received funding of $122.45 million spread over two biennia (plus a reserve of $1.55 million held by the state Board of Higher Education). Such impressive support would not have been possible without the efforts of many people, including North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, President Duaine Espegard and members of the state Board of Higher Education, UND President Robert Kelley, members of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences Advisory Council, and a whole cadre of stakeholders from across the state.

The entire state

But what is remarkable about the entire project is the astounding degree of cooperation and nonpartisan support the project received. Although the building will be built in Grand Forks, the benefits will be felt throughout the state – and North Dakota’s legislators realized that fact, and acted in magnanimous good faith.

Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, chairman of the Education and Environment Division of the House Appropriations Committee, were able to find common ground. Skarphol deserves special praise for his efforts to find an acceptable funding mechanism for the new building.

East, west

In addition to Holmberg and Skarphol, there were others from across the state who played critical roles. Sen. Bob Erbele, a rancher from the western part of the state, played a major role in the last Legislature to provide funding for the space study that helped establish the rationale for a new building. And this year, he was the carrier of the bill in the Senate. Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, made major contributions both through his membership on the school’s Advisory Council and in the Senate. And Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, chaired the Interim Health Services Committee that was the initial endorser of the HWI and the new building – by a unanimous vote. She spoke eloquently in support of the plan and the building.

Rep. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck, has been masterful in his knowledge of how to get things done in the Legislature, first being instrumental last session in securing funding for the Center for Family Medicine building in Bismarck, and this session for helping to build support and arrange funding for the new building. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Grand Forks, with his extensive experience in education and his calm demeanor, helped to inform and enlighten his colleagues, as did Sen. Mac Schneider. D-Grand Forks, and the rest of the Grand Forks delegation.

Work tirelessly

We recognize the trust bestowed upon us by the Legislature, and we will work tirelessly to help address the health care delivery challenges facing our state. With this support, we are confident that we now have a clear path forward. From Fargo and Grand Forks to Hettinger and Williston and points in between, the benefits of the HWI and the training that will go on in the new building and in our communities will be felt for a long time. The health care future of North Dakota has been changed forever, and the benefits will be reaped for decades to come.

Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH, is UND vice president for health affairs and dean, UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Molmen, MPH, is CEO,

Altru Health System, Grand Forks.