Thirty-five years ago today, Southern California welcomed a bold endeavor, but one that got off to a pretty quiet start. This new enterprise opened with little fanfare on the day after Labor Day, 1977, starting life with two employees, a broken phone, and some rented furniture, and working out of a storefront office in a mostly abandoned outdoor shopping mall in Pomona, Calif.

Over time, more space was acquired, more employees hired, and more awareness raised about the new venture, and by the time fall 1978 rolled around, 36 adventurous and committed souls had agreed to become the inaugural class of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific.

“I have been thinking a great deal lately about that first class of students, about their dreams, their commitment, and their willingness to take a chance on the unknown. In those early days of COMP, there were no guarantees that what we knew to be a worthy and needed addition to health-sciences education would even survive, much less thrive,” said Founding President Philip Pumerantz, PhD. “As I did then, I today commend the members of the Class of 1982 for being possessed of the attitude, aptitude, and ambition necessary not only to become physicians, but to be the first worldwide ambassadors for what is now known as Western University of Health Sciences.”

Dr. Pumerantz, who has led WesternU throughout its 35-year history, also commends the staff and faculty who were the early builders of our curriculum and operations, and who embraced the philosophy of humanism and compassionate care not only in their instruction and dealings with students, but with one another and with the surrounding community.

“COMP, and now WesternU, has always been more than just a school. It is a valued community resource, partner, and friend, and serves as a beacon to all of what is possible when dreams, goals, commitment, and caring intersect,” Pumerantz said.

COMP became Western University of Health Sciences in 1996 as its program offerings and physical imprint continued to grow. COMP has been joined by eight additional colleges: Allied Health Professions, Pharmacy, Graduate Nursing, Veterinary Medicine, Dental Medicine, Optometry, Podiatric Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

A $100-million campus expansion project included the construction of the Health Education Center and the Patient Care Center, which brings together a Dental Center, Eye Care Center, Foot & Ankle Center, Medical Center, Pharmacy, Travel Health Center and the Western Diabetes Institute under one roof.

COMP expanded into the Pacific Northwest with the opening of a campus in Lebanon, Oregon in 2011. WesternU students from all disciplines work and learn together in the interprofessional education curriculum, with the goal of understanding each other’s roles as health professionals and promoting a team approach to patient care and health care management, leading to improved patient care.

“As I walk around our campuses in Pomona and Lebanon today, greeting our more than 3,500 students and more than 1,000 employees, I am consistently amazed and grateful that, regardless of how large our institution has become, we have never lost sight of what got us here: a mission to provide competent, compassionate care to all who seek it, and to live that mission through all that we do,” Pumerantz said.

From its inception, WesternU set out to be not just another medical school, but to be distinctive, where scientific and technical knowledge is combined with humanistic, patient-centered care. Although the 35th anniversary serves as a natural time to look back, WesternU is committed to striving for an even brighter future as its graduates become leaders in an ever-changing health care landscape.

“Much has been accomplished since 1977, and much remains to be done,” Pumerantz said. “As we celebrate our past, let’s also embrace the opportunities the present and future provide, and embark on bold endeavors each and every day.”