Western University of Health Sciences celebrated a milestone in its history — the 30th anniversary of the university’s commencement exercises — by sending a record 741 graduates across the stage at Pasadena Civic Auditorium and out into the world of health professions.

The colleges of Allied Health Professions, Graduate Nursing, and Pharmacy held their graduation ceremonies on Thursday, May 19, 2011. Commencement for the colleges of Biomedical Sciences, Osteopathic Medicine and Veterinary Medicine were Friday, May 20. Commencement 2011 marked the inaugural commencement for the Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences, which opened in January 2010.

On Thursday, Allied Health and Graduate Nursing got things started, with a total of 257 students — 162 from Allied Health, which includes the physical therapy, physician assistant and health sciences programs, and 95 from Graduate Nursing — receiving their diplomas.

Commencement speaker Ed Hernandez, OD, who in addition to running an optometry practice is a state senator serving California’s 24th District, told the graduates that the biggest challenge they will face in the coming months and years is meeting the demands of a growing patient population. More Americans will qualify for health insurance thanks to federal health care reform, but “”everyone getting an insurance card won’t solve the (health care) problem, because there’s a huge access issue — we have a shortage of health care providers,”” Hernandez noted.

WesternU graduates are better prepared than most to handle such challenges, Hernandez said, as a result of the university’s whole-person approach to health professions training and its commitment to interprofessional education and community service. “”The university you’re graduating from has exemplified what health care is,”” he said.

He concluded with a three-part mission for the graduates: Be an integral part of health care. Be a public servant. And give back to the community, for “”you are entering a profession where you are the true public servants.””

The College of Pharmacy followed in the afternoon with the promotion of 147 graduates. William Zellmer, BSPharm, MPH, a consultant, writer and speaker on strategic and professional issues in pharmacy practice, gave the keynote address. He focused on the opportunities and challenges facing pharmacists, and the changes needed in the profession.

“”The gap between the knowledge of pharmacists and the function of pharmacists is still very large,”” he said. “”Too many pharmacists in all practice settings still assume a very narrow, technical role in the care of patients. We will not be sustained as a profession unless pharmacists take responsibility for the outcomes of patients’ use of medicines. It will be up to you to see that this is done.””

The College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) and the Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences led off the Friday, May 20 Commencement ceremonies, with 215 graduates receiving Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degrees and 28 students — the Biomedical Sciences college’s charter class — earning either Master of Science in Medical Sciences or Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences diplomas.

Commencement speaker John Crosby, JD, Executive Director of the American Osteopathic Association, opened his remarks with a provocative question for the graduates: “”Are you truly ready to be a D.O.?”” He went on to outline the many challenges facing health care providers in today’s world, and noted that while the osteopathic profession had A.T. Still — the founder of osteopathic medicine — to thank “”for teaching us how to use our hands,”” the future of osteopathic medicine is in the hands of new graduates like the ones from WesternU.

“”I challenge the Class of 2011 to join us in making this pledge of commitment, to be a D.O.,”” he said. As the health care landscape changes, he concluded, “”Naysayers will say our distinctiveness will be lost. But I see great days ahead, made possible by men and women of great will and vision.””

The College of Veterinary Medicine brought the Commencement ceremonies to a close Friday afternoon with 94 graduates receiving a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. Keynote speaker Nicholas Trout, MA, VETMB, DACVS, ECVS, bestselling author and staff surgeon at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, joked about the lighter moments of veterinary practice, from amusing pet names to stalling while you narrow down an elusive diagnosis.

But he also had a serious message – that mistakes are inevitable, but what will set you apart is what you learn from them.

“”When you are faced with a difficult case and a testy owner, do not be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know,’ because not knowing is not the same as not caring and not wanting to find out,”” he said. “”Most importantly, make time every day to quietly and privately savor the small victories, because for every ugly wound that transforms into a cosmetic work of art, every cancer you send into remission, every impossible case you cure, you are only seconds away from a dozen anxious phone calls, disease that is back with a vengeance and incisions that prefer not to heal. These are not disasters. These are not failures. These are the normal consequences of what we do. This is the struggle that is veterinary medicine. Accept it, embrace it and you will come to love it. For me, it is this struggle that makes it all worthwhile.””

CVM Dean Phillip Nelson, DVM, PhD, opened his Dean’s Message with a special tribute to Assistant Professor Pia Testa Phillips, PhD, who passed away in April.

“”Recently, the CVM family lost one of its own, Dr. Pia Testa Phillips,”” he said. “”Dr. Phillips was a joyous personality and provided all of us daily inspiration, even when she did not agree with us. In honor of her memory and in appreciation for her contributions to the education of the Class of 2011, I would ask the CVM faculty and the Class of 2011 to stand. Would all of you join us in a moment of silence to acknowledge the loss of a dear friend, wife, mother, educator and caring human being, Dr. Phillips.””

He then told graduates in his Dean’s Charge that having the title “”doctor”” in front of their name symbolizes that they have intellect, an intellect not granted to most.

“”That little word places serious responsibilities on your shoulders,”” Nelson said. “”The only way you can meet the expectations of a ‘doctor’ is through the judicious use of your intellect.””

Graduates from the many different programs were ready to take on this new responsibility.

“”(WesternU) integrates medicine and the community, through education, through students, and through educating the community about all the kinds of medicine the school does,”” said CVM graduate Veronica Bingamon, DVM ’11. “”The students coming out of here are ready, they’re prepared, they’re well-rounded, and they know how to deal with tough situations and working with people.””

College of Allied Health Professions graduate Jonathan Bulos, who earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, said WesternU gave him a great education, and the faculty and clinical rotations prepared him well.

“”I’m ready to move on the next stage of my life, joining the health care work force and making a difference,”” he said.

The idea of “”making a difference”” resonated with many of the graduates. College of Graduate Nursing graduate Angela Coaston, who earned a Master of Science in Nursing degree and a Family Nurse Practitioner certificate, said she has worked as a nurse for 20 years.

“”It has been quite a journey, a journey of perseverance,”” she said. “”I wanted to be able to make a difference. I wanted to be involved in health improvement. Getting an education allows me to do that.””

College of Pharmacy graduate Teresa Corbala, PharmD ’11, said she came to WesternU on the recommendation of a co-worker at CVS in San Diego who was in WesternU’s first Pharmacy class.

“”I liked everything, actually — the way the curriculum is set up, the block schedule, the fact that we had a year and a half of rotations compared to just a year at other schools,”” she said of her time at WesternU. “”It has an intimate setting. The campus is pretty small, which is kind of nice.””

The first Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences class was very small – four students. This small group bonded and worked well together. They bounced ideas off each other and got lots of one-on-one time with professors.

“”The program gave me hands-on experience working closely with world-class researchers here,”” said Valerie Kendall, MSBS ’11.

Graduates choose two family members, friends or faculty members to join them onstage to place the academic hood on them after they receive their diploma. Prior to the ceremony, a lot of proud parents and spouses reflected on their loved ones’ accomplishments. Sandra and John Trotter of Palm City, Florida, said their daughter Tiffany, who earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, was interested in animals from a very early age and always had a keen interest in horses. When she was 8 and the family lived in New Jersey, the community college had a horse that kids could care for during the summer, and Tiffany took on the challenge. “”We’re relieved and excited. It’s like one chapter closed and another one’s opening now.””

Shan Barkataki said he could see that his son, COMP graduate Kieron Barkataki, wanted to be a doctor.

“”He just had this light. I could see it coming,”” Shan Barkataki said. “”I remember him asking me casually, ‘Do you think I can be a doctor?’ I said, ‘You could be whatever you want to be.'””