Click to view slideshow of CAHP/CPM Commencement

Western University of Health Sciences graduates are well positioned to address the challenges of the 21st century. But they must remember to balance work and family to avoid burnout, and always put the patient first.

WesternU graduated nearly 1,000 new health care professionals during five Commencement ceremonies May 23-25, 2018 in Pasadena, California. Innovative researchers and health care leaders gave inspiring and challenging speeches to graduates as they prepared to begin residencies, continue their education or enter the workforce. 

Richard Pitts, DO, PhD, gave the keynote address at the College of Allied Health Professions and College of Podiatric Medicine ceremony. Pitts is the vice president of Clinically Integrated Networks and senior medical director of Saint Joseph Heritage Healthcare. He explained to the graduates that the “real work begins now” and encouraged students to come up with a roadmap for their life.  

“You have earned the right and respect in the eyes of friends, family, patients and students to be a trusted source for helping them understand medical information,” Pitts said. “What an honor. You have worked hard, and it’s amazing what you have done. You need to create your own roadmaps now. Start soon. You need to protect yourself from burnout. Finally, you need to be prepared to be successful. It doesn’t happen by accident.” 

Click to view slideshow of GCBS/COMP Commencement

The keynote speaker for the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific and the Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences also advised graduates to avoid burnout by balancing work and home life. UC Irvine Professor of Neurology Howard J. Federoff, PhD, MD, also told them to be self-aware, bond with their team and be a provider and an advocate. 

“Rather than harnessing the best evidence and attempting to offer your best recommendation, you should consult with your patient, the key person at the center of the medical issue,” Federoff said. “When knowledge is contextualized and patients are informed, we can do the best for everyone. Moreover, we learn from every patient. They inspire us to refine our craft. The patient is a vital part of our journey to learn and impart knowledge to others.” 

College of Graduate Nursing and College of Optometry keynote speaker Daniel Weberg, PhD, BSN, senior director of innovations and leadership with Kaiser Permanente, asserted that these new graduates are fully prepared to join the changing health care environment and be the innovators the profession needs. 

“One of the first concepts I learned in my innovation education is positive deviance. Positive deviance is the idea that you can be disruptive to create a spark for greater good,” he said. “Positive deviants have found ways to find good in systems in which others are failing.” 

As health care professionals, newly-minted nurses and optometrists are positive deviants, he said.  

Click to view slideshow of CDM/COP Commencement

“You need to partner with your colleagues in technology, in computer sciences and robotics, leadership and in practice. These groups need your expertise in systems thinking to create a future that is relevant and impactful,” Weberg said. “Did you know that in the last four years more than $20 billion has been spent by venture capital firms to disrupt health care? You must actively shape the future of health care. Now, even if all of this future technology stuff has you uninterested, we need your innovations at the front lines. Positively disrupting the culture of interprofessional education, patient-centered care, and evidence-based practice will be important work.” 

Stanley M. Bergman, chairman of the board and CEO of Henry Schein Inc., served as the keynote speaker for two ceremonies, addressing the College of Veterinary Medicine and the colleges of Dental Medicine and Pharmacy. Henry Schein Inc. is the world’s largest provider of health care products and services to office-based dental, animal health, and medical practitioners, with more than 22,000 Team Schein Members and operations or affiliates in 34 countries.  

Bergman provided graduates with inspirational quotes, and offered some of the advice that has helped him during his career. He told them to focus on relationships, be leaders who engage and involve everyone, adopt technology and give back to society. He also told graduates to get out of their comfort zone every day. 

Bergman then quoted Robert F. Kennedy — “Some people see things the way they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” — and noted that the sentiment “goes hand in hand with Eleanor Roosevelt’s notion of challenging yourself,” Bergman said. “If you have a vision and an idea, ask yourself why not. Don’t let anyone stand in your way. You are so well positioned to make a difference in this world. You can advance health care. In the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’” 

That sentiment might also describe students’ experiences completing their programs. Information overload, rigorous testing and late nights seemed impossible at times, so graduates were happy and relieved to finally reach this point in their careers. 

Click to view slideshow of CGN/CO Commencement

“There were some points in between where I was second-guessing what I was doing, but now that I’m here I know I have got where I wanted to go and I am where I wanted to be,” said COMP graduate Levi Dodge, DO ’18. “On the other side of this wave, I feel like it was worth it.”  

Several people were integral in getting Levi to the point of graduation, from a couple who gave him work painting homes and a community college counselor to his Air Force counselor. He was also able to lean on his twin brother, Jake Dodge, DO ’18, who also graduated from COMP on Friday. 

“We’ve always been together and done most things together. It was really fun to be able to share that,” Levi said.  

“One thing I liked about WesternU is that I felt that they had my back through the process. That was a big thing for me, and I know my brother felt the same way,” Jake said. “I really felt that they went to bat for the students and I always felt at the end of the day if something happened during my rotation, the school would look into it and back me up.” 

College of Graduate Nursing Assistant Professor Khoa (Joey) Dang, DNP ’18, MSN, RN, FNP-C, earned his Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, which he pursued to make a positive impact on the nursing profession. He has worked as a nurse since 2000, and also earned his Family Nurse Practitioner certificate at WesternU. Pursuing advanced degrees is important for the nursing profession, he said.

Click to view slideshow of CVM Commencement

“The health care landscape has become more diverse and complex,” Dang said. “With all these different factors pushing innovative delivery, we’ve had to push our own education, our own goals and our own preparation to be able to meet those needs.” 

Family and friends play an important role in WesternU students’ lives, providing support, comfort and motivation. They also played an important role in Commencement. Each graduate invited someone special to join them onstage to place their new academic hood on their shoulders. 

Karlie Clark stood onstage to hood her husband, College of Optometry graduate Michael Clark, OD ’18, and also sang the National Anthem with him to open the ceremony. They both grew up singing in high school and college choirs, and Karlie also performs in community theater.

“It’s such a great journey culminating today,” she said. “It’s amazing to see his growth. He’s always been really great with people, but he has developed even greater confidence in himself. He has an amazing ability to make people comfortable and calm. He has great compassion and is a great people person.”

College of Podiatric Medicine graduate Parth Dixit, DPM ’18, said no one knew how hard the program would be, but his classmates made it through together. 

“These are some of the best friends you’re going to have. These are friends for life. It’s going to be sad not to see them every day,” he said. “These people are in the trenches with you, studying with you 14 hours a day. They become your family.”