Tending the Healing Flock
UND SMHS Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Don Warne works to engage students, prepare health professionals.
Outside Don Warne’s office is a popular spot for students to gather and chat.
Inside, Warne is surrounded by books, degrees, and awards. The centerpiece of his office—and always in sight—is a large whiteboard filled with rows and columns of neat writing. Some boxes on this grid are crossed off, others have notes.
There are a lot of projects ongoing, and they’re always top-of-mind said Warne, who wears multiple hats as the director of the Indians Into Medicine (INMED) Program, director of the Master of Public Health (MPH) Program, and associate dean for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences.
His ultimate goal is to prepare the next generation of health professionals.
“I love engaging all students, American Indian or not,” said Warne. “I find students energizing. They are why we’re here. I feel good about the next generation of healers.”
Warne has a holistic vision for a program that starts with educating middle school students and takes them through high school and college, medical school, and beyond.
“We just admitted seven outstanding American Indian students who will start medical school in the fall,” Warne said, noting that more than 240 American Indian physicians practicing across the continent are INMED alumni. “Our graduates are serving tribal communities across the nation.”
Medical doctors notwithstanding, INMED supports college students who want to work in medical education, physical therapy, and occupational therapy, as well as some other undergraduate programs like medical laboratory science, starting with kids in seventh grade.
Established at UND in 1973, INMED offers a Summer Institute for students in grades 7-12 and supports medical and health professional students once they reach UND. Services include academic and personal counseling for students, assistance with financial aid applications, and summer enrichment sessions at the junior high through professional school levels.
“Kids from all over the country want to be here,” said Warne, who noted that they’ve received more than 100 applications for the Summer Institute in 2019, an enrichment program that offers classes in science and health, along with field trips. “We have the resources to support 48 students but the capacity to serve 100 on campus. The program is in demand.”
But the program isn’t only there for students.
Warne and other faculty members at the UND SMHS recently received a multi-year, $322,000 grant to help high school teachers at tribal schools improve their STEM curricula and create engaging lessons. The goal of the grant is to develop a new program called the Native Educator University Research Opportunity [NEUROscience] that will both train educators from tribal communities and pique student interest in STEM.
“The idea is to work with tribal high school teachers to increase capacity for STEM education, to learn teaching techniques but also incorporate indigenous perspectives on STEM,” Warne added, explaining how indigenous people have been practicing science and developing technology for millennia. “We just didn’t call it STEM. If you look at the indigenous population in the Americas, a great example is Guatemala. The Mayans there built these megacities that at the time they were occupied [in antiquity] were larger than any city in Europe. Look at the science and engineering there. That has to be part of the [educational] framework.”
NEUROscience places teachers in a UND Department of Biomedical Sciences research lab at the SMHS where they gain first-hand experience conducting scientific research. Teachers will also work with science educators to translate their research experience into the classroom.
In addition to the NEURO award, Warne has brought in more than a $1 million in other grants since becoming INMED director in May 2018.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, next fall, Warne plans to launch the world’s first doctorate in public health emphasizing indigenous health. And he’s also launching the first accelerated MPH program, which will enable students to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years.
Warne has also revised the MPH program by adding a specialization in indigenous health. According to the program’s website, the specialization is designed to provide students with a critical understanding of determinants of Indigenous health and solutions to health disparities.
“Students will examine Indigenous populations, histories, cultures, societies, traditional healing systems, food sources, patterns and impact of colonization, and health inequity,” the website notes. “Students will also evaluate the impact of historical and ongoing traumas associated with colonization and colonialism, explore Indigenous concepts of health and healing, and will synthesize new approaches of moving toward health equity in a culturally relevant manner.”
“We will offer the only indigenous health, the only online bachelor’s/master’s degree combination, and one of very few health policy MPH degrees,” continued Warne, who holds both an M.D. and M.P.H. “We’re collaborating with faculty all over the world, including Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Guam, and Norway. And for the first time, we are offering an online ‘asynchronous’ program for physicians and clinicians. This means health professionals can work on the degree when they have time—evenings, weekends.”
Warne is also working to increase the number of American Indian professors of medicine, as well as administrators.
He is one of just two American Indian associate deans at a U.S. medical school. The other, Joycelyn Dorscher, M.D., associate dean for Student Affairs & Admissions, is also at UND.
That’s good news for UND, Warne said, as he added that he is hiring more faculty with the goal of becoming full professors.
“There are 37,000 professors of medicine in the U.S., and only 10 are American Indian,” Warne said. “We are working to change that. I want to promote diversity, equality and inclusion at the School.”
Warne said great things are happening at INMED and in the public health program.
“It’s an honor to do this,” he said. “This doesn’t feel like work.”