The University of North Dakota
Dimensions | UND's Quarterly Magazine | May 2005
Professor Melvin Brannon
the school of medicine & health sciences marks a century of excellence

On September 26, 1905, the North Dakota State Legislature established a medical school at the University of North Dakota. With that action, the legislature set in motion an entity that would become one of the more crucial elements in supporting and enhancing the quality of life for people of this state and region.

This year, the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences is celebrating its centennial with events throughout the state that will commemorate the anniversary and highlight the School’s impact through education, research, and service. The celebration will culminate with an alumni reunion during Homecoming this fall in Grand Forks.

A Century of Excellence, Innovation and Service

The School has an illustrious history. Over the past 100 years, the School has prospered and its leaders and faculty have created a vibrant institution praised nationally as a leader in medical education and rural health.

It is credited statewide as a tremendous resource for the citizens and a dynamic and vital force for North Dakota’s advancement.

At the dawn of the 20th century, legislators recognized the need for the state to offer medical education. Most of them were farmers living in rural settings with little or no medical care. These legislators founded a medical school to provide North Dakotans with the opportunity to become physicians and stay in state to establish practices.

Until the mid-1970s, North Dakota’s Medical School offered only a basic science curriculum, leading to the Bachelor of Science in Medicine degree. Students were able to pursue medical education at a very reasonable cost. Many alumni readily affirm that they could not have pursued a career in medicine had it not been for the existence of the Medical School.

School of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of North Dakota

  • As one of about 25 “community-based” medical schools in the United States (out of a total of 125), it relies largely on practicing physicians in community hospitals, rather than a university hospital, to help educate medical students.
  • Highly respected nationally for its “patient-centered learning” educational program and the quality of its medical graduates, the School of Medicine and Health Sciences has educated almost half of all practicing doctors in North Dakota.
  • The School has also educated about 70 percent of physician assistants and 86 percent of physical and occupational therapists practicing in the state.
  • Its major focus is on producing excellent doctors for North Dakota, with an emphasis on family physicians interested in serving more rural areas.
  • Its Center for Rural Health is one of the nation’s best and includes the only Rural Assistance Center, a worldwide clearinghouse for information on rural health issues.
  • With a marked increase in research productivity over the past 10 years, the School attracts nearly $30 million in federal grant funding to North Dakota. The majority of these funds are used for salaries, leading to new jobs and new taxpayers for the state.
  • The UND Medical School operates just one of 11 sites in the nation that have the advanced technology — the positron emission tomography scanner, cyclotron, and related laboratory — to study neurodegenerative diseases, as well as the processes in the brain that can lead to drug addiction.
  • The School is committed to the study of diseases and conditions that affect people of this region: diabetes, cancer, obesity and eating disorders, Parkinson’s, alcoholism, fetal alcohol syndrome, and osteoarthritis.
  • The Department of Family Medicine is one of two in the country to be designated as a national Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, Region VIII Demonstration Project, a model for improving
    health care for women.
  • For more than 30 years the School’s Indians Into Medicine (INMED) program has educated medical doctors and other health professionals for service on reservations and elsewhere.
  • It has been selected as one of 10 medical schools nationwide to receive a grant from the American Medical Association to study how best to teach and promote professionalism in medicine.

These accomplishments and national recognition are evidence of the excellence and the high standards to which the School’s faculty aspire every day. The UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences is one of this country’s outstanding smaller, community-based medical schools.

There is much to celebrate in this, the 100th anniversary of its founding.

After two years of medical education at UND, students then transferred to other medical schools, such as Harvard, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and many others across America, to complete the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. They were consistently surprised and pleased to discover they had been educated as well or better than their classmates at these highly respected schools.

In 1971 the Carnegie Report recommended that two-year medical schools should close or convert to four-year, M.D.-granting institutions, since there had been a sharp reduction in the number of seats into which two-year medical students could transfer. With this national impetus, North Dakota faced a crossroads. The choice was between ending its medical education program or expanding it to enable students to complete the M.D. degree in the state.

Aware of these trends and concerned about a shortage of physicians, the State Legislature made the commitment to expand the program to offer the full medical degree at UND and to provide residency training in primary care fields such as family medicine, internal medicine, and others.

In that pivotal year, 1973, UND Medical School administrators began the process of transition; in the spring of 1976, graduates of the first class, 40 of them, walked across the stage to receive North Dakota’s first M.D. degrees.

Over the past 30 years, the impact of the School on the availability of health care services in the state, especially in terms of physicians, has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Three years before the State Legislature approved the four-year medical education program, less than 20 percent of physicians practicing in the state were alumni of the Medical School. Today, the percentage of practicing physicians who are UND alumni has risen to about 47 percent while the number of physicians has grown nearly threefold over the past three decades.

The School of Medicine and Health Sciences offers programs in medicine, physician assistant studies, physical and occupational therapy, clinical laboratory science, cytotechnology, and athletic training, in addition to anatomy and cell biology, biochemistry and molecular biology, microbiology and immunology, and pharmacology, physiology and therapeutics.

Postgraduate residency training is offered in family medicine, internal medicine, psychiatry, and general surgery, as well as a one-year transitional program for physicians who plan to pursue training in such areas as anesthesiology, radiology, dermatology, and other specialties.

The Class of 2008
The entering Class of 2008 began its studies on August 2. That group of 62 included 32 men and 30 women, and ranged in age from 21 to 35, with a mean average of 24. Forty-six are North Dakota residents; the others are participants in the federally funded Indians Into Medicine program or exchange programs negotiated with the Western Interstate Compact for Higher Education (WICHE) and the State of Minnesota.

Although most are North Dakotans, not all attended college within the state. These prospective M.D. recipients earned their undergraduate degrees at 31 institutions:

  • Sixteen from the University of North Dakota.
  • Eight from Concordia College.
  • Five from North Dakota State University.
  • Four from the University of Minnesota.
  • Two each from Jamestown College, Montana State University, and the University of Montana.
  • One each from Boston College, the College of St. Benedict, Dakota Wesleyan, Gustavus
    Adolphus, Harvard, Hope College, Mayville State, Minot State, New York University, Northern Arizona, St. John’s University, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Texas Tech University, the University of Arizona, the University of Findlay, the University of Mary, the University of Nebraska, University of Notre Dame, University of Oklahoma, the University of Puget Sound, the University of St. Thomas, the University of Wyoming, and Wheaton College.
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