COMP-Northwest, the Pacific Northwest campus of Western University of Health Sciences’ (WesternU) College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP), formally welcomed its inaugural class of 107 students Saturday, July 30, 2011, during Convocation and white coat ceremonies held on the COMP-Northwest campus in Lebanon, Oregon.

Dr. Philip Pumerantz, founding president of WesternU, presided over the ceremonies, which featured a Convocation keynote address by Dr. John Kitzhaber, governor of Oregon, himself a former emergency room physician and chief author of the Oregon Health Plan.

Dr. Pumerantz said the students’ dreams of becoming doctors have been transformed into goals now that they have started their studies at COMP-Northwest, for “a dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” He also praised the state’s osteopathic community, and the people of Lebanon and Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley. “They have made us feel a part of the family from the moment we broke ground.”

Warren Lawless, chairman of WesternU’s Board of Trustees, praised the incoming class for its qualifications, but reminded them that much work remains to be done. “It is here that you will first glimpse the long road to your career” helping patients, he said. “If you didn’t have the right stuff, you wouldn’t be here. Let’s get to work.”

Gov. Kitzhaber told the inaugural class that he applauded their decision to join the ranks of the nation’s healers, but that many challenges lie ahead for them, not least the U.S. health-care system itself. “Our current system is designed for sick care, not preventative care,” he said. “This system that we have today, that you have decided to join … is simply not sustainable.”

Kitzhaber said that in an era when primary care physician shortages loom throughout Oregon, the Northwest and the U.S., a new focus is needed to prioritize care, ensuring that basic health-care needs are met for everyone with the best level of quality possible. “COMP-Northwest is going to go a long way toward helping meet this crisis,” he said.

“But the real work goes beyond your academic training,” Kitzhaber concluded. “Absolutely nothing has shaken my conviction that individuals … have the capacity to change the world. I urge you to engage in this larger effort to transform the U.S. health care system. Why not you? Why not us? Why not here? Why not now?”

The governor’s address was followed by WesternU’s traditional white coat ceremony, presided over by Clinton Adams, DO, MPA, FAAFP, dean of COMP, with a keynote address by Karen Nichols, DO, dean of the Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine and immediate past president of the American Osteopathic Association. COMP-Northwest’s first class was called to the stage, and each student was coated by a member of the faculty as a symbol not only of the students’ entry into the health professions, but also of the academic and personal support they will receive while at the University.

The coating was followed by the DO’s Pledge of Commitment, recited by the students and led by Alan Bates, DO, an Oregon state senator. COMP-Northwest Founders Medals then were awarded to several individuals and organizations critical to COMP-Northwest’s establishment.

Prior to the ceremony, parents and spouses of the new DO students waited excitedly for them to make their entrance into the 20,000-square-foot Convocation tent set up just a few steps southeast of COMP-Northwest’s main building. For many, the day marked the beginning of a final challenge their sons, daughters, husbands and wives will meet to achieve a lifelong objective.

“She’s wanted to be a doctor since she was in grade school,” said Shelley Dougherty of Salem, Oregon, whose daughter, Anne Marie Collum, is in the inaugural class. Shelley and her husband, Steve, attended Convocation with Anne Marie’s husband, Matt, underscoring the fact that about a third of COMP-Northwest’s students are married.

Anne Marie, a graduate of Oregon State University in Corvallis, about 20 miles west of Lebanon, graduated with a B.S. in chemistry in 2009, then worked for a couple of years as an EKG tech at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis. (COMP-Northwest is on the Samaritan Health Sciences campus in Lebanon.) At Samaritan, she met several DOs, and third- and fourth-year COMP students doing clinical rotations from WesternU’s Pomona campus, and “she liked their connection to patients. It’s the way she wants to be as a physician,” her mother said.

Steve Dougherty said he was impressed not only by WesternU’s philosophy and reputation, but also by the way Convocation week events were conducted, and by the disposition of WesternU and COMP-Northwest staff and faculty, especially COMP-Northwest Executive Associate Dean Paula Crone, DO. “The parents’ ‘meet and greet’ was very relaxed and welcoming … Dr. Crone is very engaging, and made us feel at home. Her signature is on everything here.”

“They’ve done a good job of assembling a staff with a lot of people skills,” Shelley Dougherty concluded. “These are the kind of people who make good mentors.”

Ivy Shelmadine, whose husband, Brian, is one of three PhDs in COMP-Northwest’s inaugural class, said the chance to study osteopathic medicine in a rural setting – and the Pacific Northwest’s outdoors opportunities – were what brought her young family to Lebanon.

“Brian was looking for a rural DO school. He didn’t want to be in a big city,” said Ivy as she wrangled the Shelmadines’ lively 1-year-old, Jackson — whose birthday coincided with Convocation. “Brian’s an outdoors guy, and he’s wanted to be in Oregon for several years.”

The Shelmadines, who hail from Alliance, Nebraska, but have most recently been living in Waxahachie, Texas, have rented a house in Lebanon that Brian will live in while Ivy and Jackson wait in Texas for their home to be sold. Ivy, a pediatric physical therapist, said she will look for job opportunities of her own once the family is settled in Lebanon.

“We’re very excited,” Ivy said. “We’ve known we wanted to be here, and we’re finally here.”

COMP-Northwest’s new students felt much the same way after the white coat ceremony had concluded and they began celebrating with family and friends.

“I knew I wanted to be at COMP-Northwest because it keeps me in the Northwest, which has a unique and friendly culture and is where the people I love and who support me are,” said Julien Diegel of Redmond, Oregon. “To have a medical education here is ideal for me, and I plan to practice in Oregon for the rest of my life.”

Evita Lopez of Austin, Texas, a former member of the Peace Corps, said she wanted to be at COMP-Northwest “because from the moment I stepped on campus, it felt like home. Everyone has been so welcoming. The first day I was here, the mayor was here, the chamber was here … I could really see myself in the Northwest.”

COMP-Northwest’s class of 107 students is made up of 57 men and 50 women, with nearly 70 percent of them hailing from the Pacific Northwest. The students’ average age is 28; 77 of them have research backgrounds; the majority of their undergraduate degrees are in chemistry, biology or microbiology; three are veterans of Afghanistan or Iraq; and three already hold PhDs.

The Convocation and white coat ceremonies followed several days of orientation activities on the COMP-Northwest campus, including a reception for parents, the President’s Ice Cream Social, and a black-tie dinner and building dedication that included the unveiling of Pumerantz Plaza, the area in front of the COMP-Northwest facility named in honor of Dr. Pumerantz, the University’s president.

COMP-Northwest Dedication

A building dedication was held at the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest Friday, July 29, 2011.

 Ice Cream Social

COMP-Northwest students had an opportunity to meet and talk with WesternU President Philip Pumerantz, PhD, and other administrators, faculty and staff at the Ice Cream Social, Friday, July 29, 2011.

Parents Reception

Parents of students in COMP-Northwest’s inaugural class mingled with administrators, faculty and staff Thursday, July 28, 2011, at Mallard Creek Golf Club in Lebanon during a parents’ reception.