The seventh class of osteopathic medical students at Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest began their journey into health care Friday, receiving their white coats at the University’s Convocation and White Coat Ceremony.

The Oregon campus welcomed 108 students in the Class of 2021. The class is composed of 50 women and 58 men with an average age of 28. Nine students hold master’s degrees, and most have bachelor’s degrees in science-related fields.

Six students come from cities with fewer than 2,500 residents, and another 12 come from cities with less than 10,000 people. Conversely, 16 students are from cities with more than a million inhabitants.

Christopher McNiel, 24, from Powers, Oregon, was among the students to receive his white coat. The close-knit feel of WesternU COMP-Northwest was a factor in McNiel’s choice to attend the school.

“There was more community here than any other school I interviewed with,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, I have been really impressed that this school has such a family feel. I know I am going to be supported.”

McNeil is one of 42 students from Oregon. Holding true to previous classes, the Class of 2021 has a strong Pacific Northwest presence, with 62 students from the region.

Antonina Storniolo, 25, from Corvallis, received her white coat at the ceremony from her father, Cosmo Storniolo, MD, an internal medicine physician with Samaritan Health Services. Antonina graduated from Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis.

“In high school, I was able to see the starting process of the school being built in Lebanon,” Antonina Storniolo said. “I’ve always wanted to come back to Oregon, and especially this area. I really saw all the positive benefits that the medical school brought to Lebanon, Corvallis and Albany.

“I have always been impressed with the caliber of students who come out of COMP-Northwest, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

While many of the new students are from the Northwest, at least 10 were born overseas, in Italy, India, South Korea, Lebanon, Egypt, Philippines, the former Soviet Union, Egypt, Ukraine, and Iran.

The students have held a variety of jobs in the past, including Tahitian dancer, cabinet builder, rancher, pharmacologist, second-degree Tae Kwon Do black belt, and more. Six students have military service.

The ceremony was presided over by WesternU President Daniel R. Wilson, MD, PhD. Dr. Wilson, who took office in July 2016, is just the second president in the University’s 40-year history. His inauguration ceremony will be held Saturday, August 12 in Pomona, California.

“Eight days from today, more than 1,000 of your fellow first-year students in nine colleges and 21 degree programs will participate in a similar ceremony for the WesternU campus in Pomona, California,” Wilson said. “You have a small head start on them, and I am honored to be with you today for these ceremonies.”

Paul Daskalos, DO ’92, an obstetrics and gynecological physician from Albany, Oregon, delivered the keynote address for the Convocation ceremony. He said his path to becoming an osteopathic physician was realized as early as the day he was born.

“My middle name is Burke. That may not seem very important at all, but to my parents, it was,” Daskalos said. “Burke” was inspired by Dr. Hal Burke, an osteopathic physician at East Moreland Hospital in Portland. Daskalos’ maternal grandmother died during childbirth. “My parents entrusted Dr. Burke for the care of my mom during her pregnancies. That may seem like an easy decision for most to just find a doctor, but I have to remember how my mom must have felt very vulnerable at this time,” he said.

Daskalos encouraged the new osteopathic medical students to never forget the role models and cheerleaders in their lives – the people that “help us every day, especially in times when we are vulnerable.”

The alumni welcome was given by Juliette Asuncion, DO ’09. She gave the students “pearls of wisdom,” explaining that they might be overwhelmed today, but going through the curriculum will make the class closer as the years go by.

“Medical school is the time to really learn how to collaborate and learn from each other,” Asuncion said. “While you do have all these new family members here, don’t forget the ones who helped you get here. These are the people who supported you to make it this far on your journey and are still invested in your success,” she added.

Paul Evans, DO, vice dean of COMP-Northwest, discussed the significance of the white coat. “This coat has been worn by many physicians from the osteopathic medical profession, and wearing it is a privilege bestowed upon all those who earn a place in the healing arts. With great privilege also comes great responsibility to one’s patients, one’s profession, and to one’s community.”

At the White Coat Ceremony, students received black physician bags sponsored through individual donations from the Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons of Oregon (OPSO). This year, a personalized note from the donor was included in student medical bags.

To wrap up the celebration, Crone challenged the students to be courageous, but to listen and care for their future patients. “I challenge you to always strive for excellence and to keep your standards set at the highest levels,” she said.

“And I challenge each and every one of you to always remember: at the end of every action, every deed, there is a patient. Your patient.”