College of
Human
Medicine

Dean's Update | July 10

Friends,

As I look over my calendar for the next week, there are a few areas of focus which might hold your interest. The meetings about a partnership with Henry Ford Health System are starting to ramp up, the return to campus meetings continue, and we continue analysis of the financial challenges around budget cuts and the university plan for academic staff and faculty pay cuts this year.

Of course, much of this has been the main meat of my meetings for more than a month, has been the subject of multiple updates, and the same or related topics are going to be the focus for the next several months. So, let’s talk about something else. (And, of course, I am happy to answer or address any questions at the weekly town halls.)

Since the early 1970s, the college has been a leader in rural medical education. This strength began with our Upper Peninsula program in 1972, and we know the graduates of that program are more likely than other CHM students to practice in high-need specialties, practice in Michigan, practice in the UP, and practice in a rural community.

This work continues in the UP with our Community Assistant Dean, Stuart Johnson, helping our students train in rural sites across the UP. (Dig this wonderful podcast “40 Years of Rural Medical Education” on the history of the program from our team’s This Rural Mission Podcast and explore the rest of the podcasts. Many thanks to Julia Terhune!)

Last decade, the college expanded its rural programming with the creation of the Traverse City Campus. Under the leadership of Dan Webster, this campus engages a large swath of the Northern Lower Peninsula in the education of our students. While Traverse City is the hub of the campus, our TC students do rotations from Alpena to Ludington.

Soon after starting the TC Campus, we added the Midland Regional Campus to the college map, and CHM alum, Paula Klose, helped us expand rural programs into the Thumb and rural communities in the center of the state.

We have great people in each of these communities, and a keystone to our success in rural education is Andrea Wendling. Dr. Wendling is a family physician who lives and practices in Boyne City, Michigan. For the college, though, Dr. Wendling directs our rural health education programs. (And she runs our rural pipeline program, and is the curriculum committee chair, and helped head up Advanced Skills and Knowledge, and whew.) Her work developing the Leadership in Rural Medicine Certificate (LRM) and the Rural Community Health Program (R-CHP) has helped more than 200 students find their passion for and place in rural health. Her work – and our rural training – was also a focus important to the college receiving the AAMC 2016 Spencer Foreman Award for Outstanding Community Service – the highest award given to medical schools.

Now, Dr. Wendling has been recognized as the recipient of the National Rural Health Association’s 2020 Outstanding Educator Award. Those of us who have been lucky enough to work with Andrea over the years know how much she deserves this. She has been an outstanding leader and educator, one of our very best mentors and sponsors for students and faculty, and a giving and thoughtful colleague. She is one of the global leaders in rural health education scholarship. It is no wonder we have developed one of the world’s premier rural health education programs.

Rural communities are becoming a larger and larger part of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you look at the COVID-19 cases by county population in the US, you will see that rural counties have the highest case rate and fatality rate per capita (you will have to scroll most of the way down the article). These counties often have a poor health care structure, lack hospital capacity, and are beset with the ravages of poverty. Indeed, the three counties with the lowest per capita income in the state of Michigan are rural: Lake, Luce, and Osceola. There is poverty in all counties, of course, but rural communities have their own special set of risks and challenges, which is why the college works hard to ensure we train students to be successful in rural communities.

Serving the people with you,

Aron

Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean