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WesternU College of Health Sciences students: agents of change and custodians of belonging

by Rodney Tanaka

August 21, 2023

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Western University of Health Sciences College of Health Sciences (CHS) students are a beacon of hope, and they will develop into agents of change and custodians of belonging.

CHS Acting Dean Gail Evans Grayson, EdD, MA, addresses new students at the CHS white coat ceremony Aug. 16, 2023, in San Dimas, California. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

CHS held its white coat ceremony Aug. 16, 2023, in San Dimas, California. CHS Acting Dean Gail Evans Grayson, EdD, MA, said the College is centered around the themes of change management, grit and resiliency.

“As we gather here today, let us reflect on our own journey. The challenges we have faced, the obstacles we have overcome, and the dreams that we are pursuing,” Evans Grayson said. “Each of us has a story to tell, a testament to our ability to overcome adversity with determination and grace. Let us draw inspiration from one another’s experience and share the wisdom we have gained along the way.”

She encouraged students to stay connected to their professors, instructors, and other College leaders.

“You are a beacon of hope for those around you and never lose sight of that,” Evans Grayson said. “We are here to give each of you a gold medal, and in return we ask you to pass the baton to the next future leaders. May this gathering be a source of inspiration, learning and connection. Let us celebrate the power of grit, resiliency and be the agent of change that lives within us all.”

CHS Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Karen Hutton-Lopez, MBA, said college is about expanding your horizons and exploring new ideas at the CHS white coat ceremony. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

Karen Hutton-Lopez, MBA, CHS Assistant Dean of Student Affairs -California, said the students are about to embark on a challenging, transformative, and life-changing journey.

“College is not just about acquiring knowledge. It is about expanding your horizons, exploring new ideas, discovering your passions, and mastering concepts related to your future career as a health care professional. It is a time for intellectual curiosity, self-discovery, and forging lifelong friendships,” Hutton-Lopez said. “Please remember you are not alone. Our support network is extensive and dedicated, encompassing faculty mentors, program chairs, student organizations and, of course, your fellow students. I encourage you to reach out, ask for help when needed, and embrace opportunities for your personal growth that lies ahead.”

College is not just a spectator sport. It is an invitation to become an agent of change, to contribute meaningfully to the world around you, Hutton-Lopez said.

“As you embark on this journey called graduate school, embrace diversity in all its forms – diversity of thought, culture, background, and perspective,” she said. “Interact with individuals who are different from you and learn from their experiences. In doing so, you will foster a spirit of inclusivity and cultivate the skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world.”

CHS Associate Dean Tina Meyer, DHSc, PA-C, talks about the significance of the white coat. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

CHS Associate Dean Tina Meyer, DHSc, PA-C, explained the significance of the white coat ceremony.

“Students, soon you will be cloaked with your first white coat. Wear it as a badge of pride and also with humility, signifying their choice of becoming a health professional who serves others, who assists others to become the best that they can be,” Meyer said. “The white coat symbolizes competence, professionalism, caring, and your dedication to earn trust from the persons you serve. It’s a powerful symbol of skill, compassion and honor. We ask that you wear it well.”

CHS students are entering health care at an exciting time. Because of WesternU’s emphasis on interprofessional education, they will graduate with a much deeper understanding of other professions and how to participate in and promote a team approach to patient care, research and the health care industry as a whole, Meyer said.

“In the future, you will be sought after for your knowledge, your skill and your caring,” Meyer said. “The coat carries with it responsibility – to be excellent in science, compassionate and caring, and knowledgeable in educating persons in how they will manage their conditions.”

CHS Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Zachary Travis, PhD, talks about the importance of belonging at the CHS white coat ceremony. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

Each CHS Program Chair provided greetings and introductions to their programs. In addition, CHS Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Zachary Travis, PhD, talked about the importance of belonging.

“At its core, to belong is to find one’s place. To belong is to feel connected. And to belong is to feel accepted,” Travis said. “In today’s incredibly fragmented world where technology often bridges distances, but paradoxically deepens divides, the yearning for belonging is more potent than ever.”

Belonging in today’s world, especially in the health care sector, presents unique challenges: the pace of change, cultural competence, mental well-being, collaboration over competition, and empathy and communication.

“To belong is to heal. And to heal is to belong. This symbiotic relationship between health and belonging is where our responsibilities lie,” Travis said. “Every prescription written, every therapy administered, every reassuring word spoken, and every hand held in solace, is an affirmation of our commitment to this cause. A commitment that the College of Health Sciences holds at its core. As health care professionals, let’s be aware of our roles not just as providers of care but as custodians of belonging in a world that so deeply yearns for it.”

Family and friends crowd together to get group photos of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Class of 2026. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

Doctor of Physical Therapy student Edwin Moya said prior to the white coat ceremony that he felt very welcome as he met his classmates and CHS faculty and staff. He became interested in PT in high school. His friend tore his meniscus and ACL, and Moya was there from the time his friend suffered his injury to the completion of his physical therapy.

“It’s something I wanted to do, something that is sports related and fitness related and also in the medical field,” Moya said. “In addition, I want to help others and build that connection with people and gain their trust.”

He looked forward to donning his white coat for the first time.

“It’s going to feel amazing. This specific moment is something I have been looking forward to my entire life,” Moya said.

Master of Science in Medical Sciences (MSMS) student Kimberly Salazar has been on campus since June, taking the Intensive Summer Anatomy Course (ISAC). The MSMS program is designed to assist individuals from diverse backgrounds in gaining acceptance to professional schools with the ultimate goal of increasing the number of health professionals in underserved areas.

“ISAC was very intense. I feel like it helped me adapt to the program,” Salazar said. “Now that I’m entering fall classes, I feel more prepared.”

Her goal is to matriculate into the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, so this may not be her only white coat ceremony. But it is still very meaningful.

“I feel like it will probably be a continuation of completing my journey,” Salazar said. “It’s just one step along, but I feel it’s becoming a reality.”

CHS students proudly stand cloaked in their new white coats. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

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