The 952 new students entering Western University of Health Sciences in August arrive at a pivotal moment in the institution’s history.

Three new colleges will welcome students into their inaugural classes in August – Dental Medicine, Optometry and Podiatric Medicine. A fourth program, the Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences, is gearing up to open early next year. They join five established colleges – COMP, Allied Health Professions, Pharmacy, Graduate Nursing and Veterinary Medicine. View the photo gallery.

New buildings will open in January 2010, including the Health Education Center, the Patient Care Center and a 600-space parking lot. The interprofessional education program also will launch in early 2010, bringing together students from the diverse disciplines on campus so they can learn about each other and learn how to work together for the benefit of patients.

"This year marks the dawn of a new era at WesternU, one that will expand and deepen our impact on health care in the community and around the globe," said WesternU President Philip Pumerantz, PhD. "All of our new students who don their white coats for the first time will be taking their first step toward becoming caring, compassionate healers."

New students will participate in Convocation and white coat ceremonies and a barbecue lunch on Saturday, Aug. 8. Click here for a complete list of activities. The white coat symbolizes the responsibilities WesternU students take on as future health care leaders.

Students entering the new programs are excited about making their mark and helping to shape their respective colleges in their infancy.

"I want to make it a school everyone wants to go to," said Katherine Gillett, OD ’13, a member of the first College of Optometry class. "If we have a 100 percent pass rate (on board exams), everyone will want to come here."

She and other optometry students cited the college staff as the reason why they chose to come to a new program.

"All the professors are really friendly and helpful," said Irene Pulido, OD ’13. "Even though it’s intense, I don’t feel like I’m alone."

This first class is made up of the future leaders of the profession," said Elizabeth Hoppe, OD, MPH, DrPH, Founding Dean of the College of Optometry.

"It takes a special personality to be attracted to participating in something new and different and something that changes the status quo," she said. "To me, that is the definition of leadership – being ahead of the curve and facilitating change. I know that the leadership that the first students show in their educational experience will continue on into their professional careers."

Other students cited WesternU’s emphasis on interprofessional education as a draw. Some incoming freshmen got an early introduction to working with other disciplines in the Summer Medical Sciences Prep Program, which gives students a head start on anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology and other important topics.

Students in the osteopathic medicine, podiatric medicine, optometry, dental medicine, physical therapy and physician assistant programs worked together in the classroom.

Mike Miller, MSPA ’11, said the physician assistant program has a team-oriented approach to medicine, and he made good friends from other programs during the summer session, which he said will help when he is making referrals.

"I’ll be able to refer patients to someone I knew as a good student with a good work ethic," he said.

Michelle Meador, DMD ’13, said she was drawn to the College of Dental Medicine because community service is incorporated into the program. She is also excited about the college’s use of high-tech equipment, which she will be able to touch first, before other schools.

"I never had a doubt about the curriculum and educational program," Meador said. "I heard a lot professors are coming from other areas. Western will have more information delivered to students. We’re leaders who will build up the dental community."