GRAND FORKS -- Though its halls are relatively empty and the building itself isn't 100 percent complete, staff at the new University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences building see the facility as full of possibilities.
The new $124 million building, which was entirely paid for by the state Legislature, provides the medical school with a chance to transform how it educates the next generation of health care professionals.
The 325,000-square-foot facility is a substantial upgrade from its predecessor, complete with new research laboratories, 14 exam rooms and an operating procedure room with robotic patients that can cry, sweat, bleed and give birth.
“What’s exciting is, not the building itself, but what we’re going to do in the building and how the education they’re going to be able to give to the next generation of health professionals will influence North Dakota and the region for years and decades to come,” said Dr. Joshua Wynne, vice president for health affairs and the dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
One of the features of the building Wynne is most excited about is the way it encourages collaboration from medical students across different disciplines. In the new building, there are eight learning communities that are intended for students of different majors to learn and train together.
That collaboration would help alleviate some of the inefficiencies in medicine, Wynne said. That way, for example, somebody could learn what different types of doctors do and the role they play in health care.
“The hope is that they’ll also share their experiences and educate each other so that occupational therapists and physical therapists and med students will all work together as a team,” Wynne said. “And we think a greater emphasis on a team approach to health care will pay dividends in the future by improving access, improving quality and reducing costs.”
That team approach is apparent throughout the building with open laboratories that encourage students working in the spaces at the same time to join up and learn something from each other.
The new building allows the medical school to bring all of the majors under the School of Medicine and Health Sciences into same building, some of which have been scattered across campus since the 1990s, Wynne said. The bigger building also will allow the school to increase enrollment by 25 percent. In the 2015-16 school year, more than 1,100 undergraduate and professional students were enrolled in the SMHS, according to UND enrollment data.
The design of the building brings collaboration to the forefront and puts UND in a leadership position with the new collaborative design. Representatives from Penn State University already have asked to come tour the new building to look at the concept.
“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” Wynne said. “People saw that it was just more efficient to do the research in this collaborative environment, and they’ve become believers.”
Wynne said he’s reminded of a Winston Churchill saying that encapsulates how he sees the new medical school’s design benefiting students for decades to come.
“We shape our buildings,” Churchill said, “and afterward our buildings shape us.”