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WesternU celebrates COMP-Northwest Commencement and Lebanon community

by Rodney Tanaka

June 9, 2015

Read 9 mins

Grad awards, Parade and Flag Pole DedicationThe first Commencement ceremony for Western University of Health Sciences’ College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest celebrated not only the accomplishments of the charter class, but the dedication of the entire community who helped make the day possible.

The ceremony, held June 5, 2015 on COMP-Northwest’s Lebanon, Oregon campus, featured 100 graduates receiving their Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. The event was open to the community.

“Many in this audience worked for decades toward this day, dedicating their careers to medical education,” said COMP Dean Paula M. Crone, DO ’92. “Many more in this audience embraced COMP-Northwest and what we stand for, turning out repeatedly and at unexpected times to push us forward and help ensure our students’ success.
“On behalf of WesternU, I want to thank our community of Lebanon for opening up your hearts and embracing COMP-Northwest and your medical students,” she added. “Yes, Lebanon, you have a medical school, and today you graduate your first 100 students.”

COMP-Northwest officially opened its inaugural academic year in July 2011, the first medical school to be built in Oregon in more than a century, and one of just two medical colleges in the state. By August 2014, the campus had reached full student enrollment of more than 400, with more than 60 faculty and staff.

COMP-Northwest's inaugural Commencement ExerciseWesternU Founding President Philip Pumerantz, PhD, presided over his first and last COMP-Northwest Commencement ceremony. He founded the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific in Pomona, California in 1977, and he will retire on Sept. 8, 2015. At the end of the ceremony, Dr. Pumerantz had conferred degrees to a total of 12,435 graduates during his illustrious tenure at WesternU.

Dr. Crone was joined by the other WesternU deans in attendance, as well as university staff lining the aisles, in celebrating his accomplishments at the conclusion of the ceremony. The COMP-Northwest Class of 2015 presented him with a painting of the tree of life.

“You truly left a legacy for which we are all thankful, and through your efforts and those of your alumni, you have made an impact on millions of patients not only across this country, but across this world,” Crone said. “Your deans each had an opportunity to present you with recognition and appreciation at each of their graduations at their commencements in Pasadena two weeks ago. Today we stand shoulder to shoulder as we collectively say thank you.”

Dr. Pumerantz and his wife, Harriet, who watched the ceremony from home, received bouquets of roses, with each rose symbolizing a graduation he presided over.

“I want to take a moment to recognize that none of us do anything alone in a vacuum. We do it with the help of a lot of people,” he said. “There’s another person who is responsible for whatever success I’ve had, and she’s at home right now watching this ceremony. All of this is for you as well.”

Two of COMP-Northwest’s biggest supporters took the stage as keynote speakers. Jeff Heatherington, LHD (Hon.) is founder, president and CEO of FamilyCare Health Plans, Oregon’s oldest Medicaid managed care plan. His history with COMP dates to its founding in 1977. While serving as director of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons of Oregon, Heatherington helped bring together WesternU and Samaritan Health Services to build COMP-Northwest.

Heatherington offered graduates some advice on becoming a good doctor and good person. Studies have shown that a physician usually interrupts a patient within 18 seconds of walking through the door, so he encouraged graduates to listen to their patients.

“One of the things to keep in mind about your patients is you rarely know very much about them, and you won’t know anything about them unless you listen very carefully,” Heatherington said. “The silence that’s in the room is not for you to fill, it’s for them to finally open up and talk about what they’re afraid of. Your patients really don’t care about what you know until they know how much you care about them.”

These graduates have received a tremendous gift – an osteopathic education, Heatherington said. He urged them to be proud of that education and to be a proud DO.

“As a physician, you will be looked on by society as a person who has more privileges than others,” he said. “Be generous in your spirit, be generous in your caring for your patients, and be generous with whatever material things you have. The profession needs you to be viewed as not only a good doctor, but as a generous spirit.”

Larry Mullins, DHA, FACHE, LHD (Hon.) is president and CEO of Samaritan Health Services Inc., an integrated health care system of hospitals, physicians, clinics, health plans and other health operations in Oregon.

Mullins helped establish the vision responsible for the success of WesternU COMP-Northwest. Through Samaritan Health Services, he built the medical school through a partnership with WesternU, on an area called the Samaritan Health Sciences Campus.

Mullins reflected on the hard work and sacrifice of those who came before, including the original pioneers who settled the area in 1847. After them came laborers, farmers, educators, loggers, and many others who made their mark on this area.

“There are many others who helped bring us here today at COMP-Northwest, and much sacrifice has been made by many to create the opportunity you now have to serve others,” Mullins said. “Many have given much to make today possible, not only for you and your families but for the generations of families who you will have the privilege to care for. We know you will honor that as you continue your training in your careers.

“I will close by saying after all your hard work and sacrifice, your career and lifelong learning continues, and you have a wonderful opportunity to do unto others as others have done to you, to make your mark and to give forward,” he added. “We know you will.”

Jan and Rob Fazio traveled from St. Petersburg, Florida to celebrate their daughter, Elise Fazio, DO ’15.

“She loves this area of the country, and she definitely wanted a DO school,” Jan said. “She got to know a lot of the faculty well, and got a lot of support from them. There were a lot of ups and downs during the four years, and they were there for her.”

The students took a leap of faith in coming to a new campus in a small Oregon town. But some were convinced from the moment they arrived.

“When I walked in the doors and was welcomed by Dean Crone and Dr. (Paul) Aversano, it just felt like family,” said COMP-Northwest graduate Jennifer Foti, DO ’15. “It felt like coming home. It’s a feeling that never left.”

Foti will enter an emergency medicine residency at Naval Medical Center San Diego.

“My time here has been incredible. The people, the staff, the faculty, fellow students, make COMP-Northwest irreplaceable,” she said. “So much love and support runs through this place. I can’t imagine going to any other medical school. I know I will always have a place here. That’s amazing. I look forward to coming back here.”

Foti will also miss the community that embraced her and her classmates.

“The Lebanon community opened their arms and took us in with a full embrace,” Foti said. “They have always been here to support us. I know that bond between the community and students will forever be there. That’s what makes this place special.”

Foti was one of a select group of COMP-Northwest students whose accomplishments were recognized at the Graduate Awards Celebration on June 4, one of many special events leading up to Commencement. After the awards ceremony, the graduates visited neighboring Pioneer School and Edward C. Allworth Oregon Veterans’ Home. Hundreds of children in grades K-8 cheered for the graduates as they walked down the school’s main hallway, many holding homemade signs congratulating them on their accomplishments.

“The students thought of that on their own,” said Pioneer School Principal Tonya Cairo. “They’re very giving, beautiful children.”

Her school has a transient population, and many of her students face poverty and other struggles. Because some of these families move often, students have gaps in their learning.

“Some of them have to fight harder to be on track academically,” Cairo said. “It’s hard for them to see into their future and dream some of the time, because of the lives they have. Some live in crisis.”

One of her students told her recently that he would never go to college because of his family situation. But she wants her students to realize that there is financial aid and other assistance available to them. Connecting them with COMP-Northwest students helps them see the possibilities, she said.

“I never want them to believe they can’t do something, and I don’t want them to limit themselves,” Cairo said. “What we saw today is perseverance and dedication. It doesn’t matter what family you come from. You can be whatever you set your mind to be. We want to show (our students) these are people just like you and me walking down the hall, and this could be you as well.”

The graduates also met with veterans living at the Edward C. Allworth Oregon Veterans’ Home, which opened in 2014. Having sufficient physician coverage is always a concern when opening a care facility in a small community, but Samaritan Health Services and WesternU have both stepped up to help, said Veterans’ Home Administrator Kelly J. Odegaard. COMP-Northwest students are planning to provide a free clinic at the home, and veterans will create cedar shingles to give to future WesternU graduates so they can “hang their shingle” as a doctor.

“We’re glad to provide clinical opportunities for students,” Odegaard said. “We’re a huge proponent of all schools. Everybody has something to offer. Our veterans provided a tremendous service to our country, and they’re also seniors with lifelong skills and experiences that they can share, whether they’re with fifth-graders or someone graduating from medical school. They still have lots to give.”

The eve of Commencement concluded with the Armed Forces Commissioning & Recognition Dinner. Prior to the dinner, COMP-Northwest held a special flagpole dedication to former COMP Dean Clinton Adams, DO, MPA, FACHE. During his 30-year Navy career, Rear Admiral Adams served as Command Surgeon of the United States Fleet Forces Command, Allied Command for Transformation (NATO) and United States Joint Forces Command and Commanding Officer of the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia. He received the Defense Superior Service Medal for distinguished service, the Legion of Merit for distinguished service, and the Navy Commendation Medal for distinguished service, among other accolades.

“Dr. Adams was the sixth dean of COMP and was dean during the planning and groundbreaking and inaugural convocation of COMP-Northwest, and through the next 18 months. He and his wife Paula took the development of COMP-Northwest personally, and have been emotionally invested in the team and in our students since then,” Crone said. “In recognition of his service to his country, to our university and to our college, we are proud to dedicate this flagpole in his honor today.”

The flagpole, in front of the COMP-Northwest building, is now dedicated to all military medical leaders past, present and future. Dr. Adams is the first honoree, with future honorees to be named at the discretion of the dean. Lebanon’s American Legion Post 51 raised and lowered a flag, then presented it to Dr. Adams, who is a COMP professor of family medicine.

“To be honored at the front door in adjacent company of such people as Dr. Pumerantz and Dr. Mullins is an overwhelming sense of pride and joy, and mostly honor,” Adams said. “To see the students who will pass through here, who are going to go over there (to the veterans’ home), and help those vets, and touch those vets, and those vets are going to touch their hearts and make them better physicians.”

In her final message to the inaugural class, Crone challenged them to be extraordinary and courageous. WesternU filled this first class with special, hand-picked young men and women, she said. They were impressive to start with, and have only continued to impress.

“You were selected to be pioneers, to be trailblazers, and you never failed in that spirit. You have taken an oath. In exchange, you are accorded a very special place in society. Use it to be healers. Use it to be leaders in your communities and champions of your patients,” she said. “Know that you will always hold a very special place in Paul’s and my heart and the hearts of all your COMP-Northwest and WesternU family. You are our ‘firstborn.’ Congratulations graduates. Congratulations doctors.”

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