From the keynote speaker to new students to proud parents, the message of inspiration, commitment and camaraderie rang loud and clear at Western University of Health Sciences’ Convocation and white coat ceremonies.

The ceremonies, held Aug. 11, 2012 at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., ushered nearly 1,000 new students into the start of their health professions careers. State Sen. Ed Hernandez, OD, an adjunct professor with WesternU’s College of Optometry, introduced the guest speaker.

Keynote speaker Diana S. Dooley, Secretary of Health and Human Services for the state of California, told the Convocation audience WesternU’s philosophy provides an ideal template for national health care as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) comes into full flower in the coming years.

“I have been deeply inspired by the history of this university, which is steeped in the balance between science and humanity,” she said. “There are many challenges in primary care … (and) it takes extraordinary people in these extraordinary times.”

Dooley praised WesternU’s commitment to Interprofessional Education, and urged entering students to be at the forefront of the collaborative care needed to eliminate the piecemeal approach that she said is “crippling health care in our country.”

California is taking the lead in implementing major elements of the ACA, and “Our ability to fulfill that promise is deeply dependent on the promises you are making today,” she concluded.

Every one of these students is going to become someone’s healer, said WesternU President Philip Pumerantz, PhD. They will have in their hands the life and wellness of thousands of people and also their animal friends. Indeed, they are embarking on a way of life that will have a profound impact on their own lives and on the lives of those they will care for.

“So to our entering students, our fervent hope is after you have completed your education and training here at WesternU, you will be ambassadors of the healing arts, and of this university,” he said. “I know you will go forth with skilled hands and compassionate hearts to help the world become a better place.”

WesternU Board of Trustees Secretary John Forbing received an honorary doctorate during the Convocation ceremony. He has served on the board since 1992 and was part of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific’s (COMP) original scholarship organization, Compatriots. He is widely respected for his more than 35 years of community involvement in the Pomona and San Gabriel valleys, said WesternU Provost and Chief Operating Officer Gary Gugelchuk, PhD.

He first began volunteering with the Pomona Jaycees in 1977 and became state chairman of the Jaycees CPR program. He is involved in many service organizations, and he also served on the Walnut Valley Unified school board and the Diamond Bar City Council.

Forbing said he appreciated the honor and he thanked his wife, Dianne, and his daughter, Stacy. He commended incoming students for dedicating their lives to taking care of others.

“I welcome each and every one of you to WesternU,” Forbing said. “Good luck with your studies and good luck with your career.”

After Convocation, each of WesternU’s nine colleges held a white coat ceremony, where students donned white coats for the first time to signify their entry into the health professions.

Students in the College of Allied Health Professions (CAHP) – which includes the departments of Health Sciences, Physician Assistant Education and Physical Therapy Education – heard from speakers in all three of those areas during the college’s white coat ceremony.

Dr. Gail Evans-Grayson, Community Field Service Coordinator for the Department of Health Sciences, urged the students to be collaborative and to contribute all they could to their field.

“You can bring something new and exciting to this diverse learning community,” she said. “Model the way. Share your knowledge and skills. Don’t keep it to yourself.”

Michael B. Miller, PT, MPT, expanded on Evans-Grayson’s remarks by recommending that students make friends who could help them and whom they could help, so that they could learn from one another. He also stressed developing strong relationships with faculty – “Take the education from them. Take it, take it, take it” – and remembering that patients come first.

“You owe it not only to your patients, but to yourselves, to do the best you can each and every day. Make a difference in the lives of your patients. Leave an impression,” he said.

Adam Marks, MPA, PA-C, president of the California Academy of Physician Assistants, told the students to set lofty goals.

“You are the future of our profession,” he said. “Embrace the fact that over the next two years, your life will revolve around taking in everything about medicine.

“Be leaders. Be innovative in a dynamic field.”

Francis Jones, DDS, MBA, Director, Division of Continuing Education, University of Nevada, Las Vegas – School of Dental Medicine, spoke at the College of Dental Medicine white coat ceremony. He asked the students to take a moment and offer each other congratulations.

“These are your future lifelong colleagues,” he said. “We are all bound by a mutual interdependence in this profession. We must accept our limitations as strengths in realizing we all seek the shared knowledge of our faculty and colleagues, each with the same goal – to be health care providers seeking successful patient treatment, the alleviation of human suffering and, always, compassionate care.”

In the audience was Greg Chew, DDS, who celebrated his daughter, Chanel, also entering dental medicine.

“She’s been visiting my dental office since she was a child,” he said. “She became inspired early on.”

Chew, who now works for Delta Dental, said dental school is tough, and he hopes his daughter keeps things in perspective.

“Don’t get overwhelmed. Four years go fast,” he said. “Embrace the time. Learn as much as you can. Develop good friendships with colleagues.”

Many WesternU students have already formed bonds with their classmates and college staff and faculty. First-year College of Podiatric Medicine student Manish Bahri said he has already met College of Podiatric Medicine Dean Lawrence Harkless, DPM, and other faculty members.

“They really make you feel like you can approach them,” he said. “They’re really available. They do great job making sure you know there’s a support system.”

Cheree Lycero, DPT ’15, of Tenino, Wash., said she felt at home at WesternU from the first interview. “The big thing I get from it is that we have all one big family. That’s what I like. It’s really intimate — the best part of it.”

Bryan Solis of Redlands, who’s in the MSHS program, said he came to WesternU because of its commitment to excellence and its humanistic approach, especially putting the patient first.

“I loved Convocation because it allowed my family to come and kind of learn more about the program, and see how we incorporate the different professions and cooperate with one another to better serve our communities,” he said.