New Western University of Health Sciences students in the College of Health Sciences’ Doctor of Physical Therapy program donned white coats for the first time and learned about the responsibilities that come with that honor.
CHS-Northwest welcomed 38 students into the DPT Class of 2026 at its white coat ceremony Aug. 4, 2023, at Lebanon First Assembly Church in Lebanon, Oregon. WesternU will welcome College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest students into the profession this afternoon as the culmination of Welcome Week.
The white coat is a symbol of welcome into the profession and a commitment to the health care professionals’ future patients, said WesternU President Robin Farias-Eisner, MD, PhD, MBA. Nearly every medical school holds a white coat ceremony, and WesternU has extended the ceremony to all of its health sciences disciplines.
“How perfect and apt that WesternU is uniquely focused on those very tenets – humanism and compassion – upon which the white coat ceremony has been based, a testament to WesternU’s founding principles indeed,” Farias-Eisner said. “The white coat ceremony therefore offers an induction into the noble calling of the DPT profession and is a privilege to uphold. The very fabric of the white represents the deep fabric of your craft, the relationship between yourselves and your beloved future patients.”
CHS-Northwest Vice Dean and Associate Professor Jonathan Perry, MSc, PhD, said the white coat stands for transformation.
“It is timely you now put on the white coat to symbolize your transformation from undergraduate to graduate students. Before, the things you learned belonged to others. From now on you must take ownership of the things you learn because you will be called on to apply them in the care of your patients,” Perry said. “Wear the white coat with pride as you step into your new role, but when you look down at the white coat you are wearing, also remember your responsibility to the patients, and to the colleagues who trust you and your knowledge.”
Keynote speaker and WesternU College of Health Sciences alumna Kerry Boysen, PT, MPT, DPT, who grew up in a small town in Iowa and who has practiced physical therapy for 20 years in the Willamette Valley, talked about some of the barriers one might expect in a rural health care setting – staffing shortages, decreased health literacy in patients, and limited access to specialty services.
“But guess what? Being a PT in a rural health care setting has been amazing and I wouldn’t choose anything else, not a different profession and not a different place to practice,” Boysen said.
What does it take to succeed as a physical therapist in a rural health care setting?
“Whether you are in the classroom or in the clinic, as you absorb knowledge and cultivate new skills, remember, you already possess two very important character traits: determination and adaptability,” Boysen said. “As physical therapists providing health care in rural communities, we must steward and uphold these character traits. Let us all persevere with passion as we encounter obstacles and setbacks and let us be flexible in what is guaranteed to be a constantly changing health care environment. By doing so we will make a significant difference in the lives of those we serve and contribute to a healthier and stronger rural community.”
DPT students started in early July, so they have already gotten to know each other. DPT student Brandon Miyashiro said it’s nice to be among a group of students who think like him and who have the same common goal of becoming a physical therapist.
“Everything you are studying here is completely practical for your job in the future,” he said. “That is what I’m really excited about, the opportunity to basically apply all the information that I have.”
Miyashiro’s parents, Mark and Lisa, both graduated from WesternU’s PT program in Pomona, California. But he has lived in Oregon the past two years and wanted to come to the CHS-Northwest program instead of following in his parents’ footsteps.
“I really liked this campus’ whole goal was to help with underserved communities,” Miyashiro said. “I appreciated they are thinking about people in society who maybe don’t have the capability of accessing health care.”
Julio and Arlene Concepcion flew from Hawaii to celebrate the white coat ceremony with their son, first-year DPT student Jacob Concepcion. As an undergraduate at Oregon State University, Jacob considered engineering, but felt it wasn’t for him.
“He works out a lot. He talked to his adviser, who asked him what his passion was,” Arlene said. “His passion was helping people.”
Jacob shares whatever knowledge he has, and he is always helpful, Julio said. Coming to his white coat ceremony is very meaningful.
“We’re very excited and very emotional,” Julio said.
First-year DPT student Penelope Boyd grew up in Lebanon. She has always been interested in health care, but her experience as a personal trainer solidified her career path.
“Through my personal training I realized the importance of health and fitness and rehabilitation,” Boyd said. “Once I learned that the DPT program was coming to Lebanon, I was super excited. I thought it would be a great opportunity. It’s nice to stay in my hometown, to be able to graduate in my hometown, and to serve in a rural environment.”