New forensic clinical practice facility opens July 6

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News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

University of North Dakota


The University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences opened a new forensic science clinical practice facility for its Department of Pathology July 6, 2011. Former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan was instrumental in securing a grant for the project through the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Mary Ann Sens, professor and chair of the Department of Pathology at the SMHS, said the new clinical site will enable all medical and health sciences students to rotate through in groups of six to 10 students daily. The former clinical site could accommodate only one or two students.

“We had outgrown the former clinical site at Altru Hospital,” Sens said. “Altru has been a long-standing partner and will continue to be a partner of the Department of Pathology; they have been very generous in providing clinical space for our clinical practice and education of our students.”

Tim Weiland, M.D., of Altru’s Pathology department, said, “There is a nationwide shortage of clinical laboratory professionals. We are proud to support UND and its students in their interest in the field. The new forensic science clinical practice facility will be a benefit to our community and encourage more professionals in the field, and we look forward to a continuing partnership.”

Sens is the coroner for Grand Forks County and currently president of the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME). NAME is the national professional organization of physician medical examiners, medical death investigators and death investigation system administrators who perform the official duties of the medicolegal investigation of deaths of public interest in the United States.

Sens said the new facility meets NAME inspection and accreditation standards. Moreover, the new morgue in the facility will enable staff to work with transplant and donation agencies to honor any family wishes.

In addition to serving more students, the new facility will benefit Altru and other hospitals throughout the region by relieving the burden of performing autopsies, which will free assets at those hospitals to meet other health care needs. The facility has the capacity to perform medical, legal and forensic investigations throughout the Red River Valley and currently provides services to Kittson, Mahnomen, Marshall, Red Lake, and Norman counties in Minnesota in addition to Grand Forks County. The new location and local provision of these services will provide a quicker turnaround for police and other investigative agencies and, most importantly, serve North Dakota families at a time of need.

PACES Lodging Corporation of Fargo was the architect and builder for the project. The clinical facility is a stand-alone building built to UND specifications for UND Pathology faculty. The building is located at the Aurora Medical Park.

Mark Koponen, M.D., a forensic pathologist, Minot, N.D, native, and alumnus of both NDSU and the UND SMHS, will serve as co-director for the clinical facility. Koponen completed his pathology residency in New Mexico; he then went to work for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

“Without a new facility, we couldn’t have recruited Dr. Koponen and his family back to North Dakota,” Sens said.