Western University of Health Sciences welcomed more than 1,100 students to its Pomona, California and Lebanon, Oregon campuses with a mixture of virtual presentations and in-person events during Welcome Week Aug. 2-7, 2021.
Several WesternU colleges capped Welcome Week with white coat ceremonies, symbolically welcoming new students into the health professions. At the College of Health Sciences (CHS) White Coat Ceremony on Aug. 6, WesternU Senior Vice President and Provost David Baron, DO, MSEd, told students they chose wisely in coming to WesternU.
“The opportunities are there, but opportunities will never come to pass without your ongoing commitment,” Baron said. “So I challenge all of you – family members, friends, and most importantly, our students – I challenge you to do the best you can, to look for opportunities to do something that maybe nobody else has ever done. Together we clearly can do something very special working collaboratively, collegially, understanding that our goal is something very special – health and well-being. I applaud your decision to join our family.”
“Let your white coat serve as a reminder of the significance of your profession, and your responsibility to provide health care to all based on excellence in your scientific knowledge and skill, coupled with care and compassion,” said CHS Dean Dee Schilling, PT, PhD, FNAP. “Wear your white coat with both humbleness and pride. Health care needs you now more than ever.”
Participating in the white coat ceremony is a really big accomplishment, said first-year Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies student Emily Hays.
“Ever since I was young, I wanted to be a health care provider,” Hays said. “I’ve always dreamed about wearing a white coat. Getting it now is exciting.”
The College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) in Pomona and COMP-Northwest in Lebanon, Oregon held a combined virtual White Coat Ceremony on Aug. 6. WesternU Interim President Sylvia Manning, PhD, explained the white coat ceremony marks students’ induction into the ethics and ethos of the health professions. This ceremony also creates an opportunity to foreground the values that support WesternU’s humanistic approach to health care education, Manning said.
“I am urging you today to invest this ceremony with all the meaning that it can carry. To see it as your induction into the sacred trust that your profession will place upon you. Because you are entering a profession where human life and human well-being are the highest values – through a university, WesternU, that is committed to your every success in the challenges before you,” she said. “Savor the moment. Bow to its significance. And greetings at the first day of the rest of your life. Let the great adventure begin.”
COMP and COMP-Northwest Dean and Vice President of Oregon Campus Operations Paula Crone, DO ’92, said medical education and health care delivery has forever changed, seemingly overnight.
“It is not only a new era for medical education, but one filled with tremendous expectations and much need,” Crone said. “We know that this next generation of physicians, made up of our students, will help to lead and will help to transform health care. And we want them to do so while still maintaining their compassion, their empathy and their resilience. Students, it is still the right time to be a medical student. More so than ever, your generation will be instrumental in shaping the future of medicine. More so than ever, your future patients and their communities need you.”
First-year COMP student Rohan Chawla said he was drawn to COMP because of its holistic, patient-centered approach to medicine, and he was looking forward to donning the white coat for the first time.
“That will be amazing. It signifies I’m in this process of becoming a physician, and the struggles, the trials and tribulations will not go unnoticed when I put on my white coat,” Chawla said. “Even though I don the white coat, I have a long way to go before I can call myself a physician. It’s a motivating, inspiring moment of my career, not the end-all, be-all. If anything, I have to work hard to deserve to wear it.”
The College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and the College of Optometry (CO) held separate white coat ceremonies Aug. 7 for first-year and second-year students, providing an in-person experience the second-year students missed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 300 family members and guests attended each CVM ceremony, held at Chaffey High School in Ontario, California. David Haworth, DVM, PhD, president and co-founder of Vidium Animal Health, a start-up genomic diagnostics company, served as the keynote speaker for both CVM ceremonies.
“Take some time reflecting on this accomplishment that you have achieved moving through this past year that was like no other,” he told the student doctors. “Try not to dismiss this accomplishment, because to do so is to cheapen it. And the world tries to tear you down enough. Even though you’ve been through all of this, you are still in the ring…fighting. Mine is a message of confidence and hope in this profession that you have chosen.”
Second-year CVM student Dan Swanson, lining up before the ceremony, was meeting students in person he’d previously only met online over the past year.
“Meeting students during the orientation (earlier in the week) was pretty much the first time seeing people in person. It is a surreal experience, but then again this makes it real,” Swanson said, adding the University had done a very good job of reaching out to the class under the unusual circumstances. “Being that we were completely remote, they did their best. I got a lot out of the first year. But I’m really looking forward to the second year.”
College of Pharmacy (COP) Dean Sunil Prabhu, BPharm, PhD, presided over his first White Coat Ceremony. He became COP dean on July. He told the PharmD Class of 2025 and International Post-Baccalaureate PharmD (IPBP) Class of 2024 they will always have a special place in his heart because they started as students the same time he started as dean.
“Today as you start your journey as student pharmacists. remember that the faculty and staff will be with you every step of the way. We want you to be successful in the program and beyond. However, you will need to do your part,” Prabhu said. “Work hard, stay disciplined, and above all, make your parents and significant others proud of your achievements.”
COP Associate Dean James Scott, PharmD, served as the keynote speaker. He is leaving WesternU after 21 years to become dean of Touro University California’s College of Pharmacy. He talked to students about respect, failure, change, advocacy and involvement.
“Pay it forward. Start with respect and it will be reflected back to you. You will fail at some point. Fail well and learn. You can lead the change or you can follow along with it, but don’t let it fly past you,” Scott said. “It is your profession. Fight for it. Help build its future. Professional organizations support your profession. They need you to support them. Ask not what your profession can do for you, ask what you can do for your profession. And very lastly, learn from everything.”
First-year COP student Jesus Rottier said he chose the College because it’s an excellent program.
“When I become a pharmacist, I will be prepared for any obstacle I may face,” he said. “I want to help people. From my personal experience, I know the difference a good health care provider can make.”
First-year College of Dental Medicine student Ivonne Elias said she has volunteered at free clinics and events that provide free dental care to underserved communities. She grew up going to Mexico for dental work because her family did not have insurance.
“I chose WesternU because I really like their mission statement about helping people. It really resonated with my background in helping underserved communities,” Elias said. “I feel like people deserve to get the best treatment here. They should not have to go somewhere else because of a lack of resources or funds. I want to help the same communities and the same people who struggle in the same way as how I grew up. It’s really rewarding to give back not only to my family, but for them to see their hard work paid off and helped me get here.”
First-year College of Graduate Nursing MSN-E student Justina Ibrahim said she enjoyed having in-person Welcome Week activities, meeting face-to-face with classmates and faculty.“I chose WesternU because I really like their mission statement about helping people. It really resonated with my background in helping underserved communities,” Elias said. “I feel like people deserve to get the best treatment here. They should not have to go somewhere else because of a lack of resources or funds. I want to help the same communities and the same people who struggle in the same way as how I grew up. It’s really rewarding to give back not only to my family, but for them to see their hard work paid off and helped me get here.”
“You can feel the support from all the professors, whether on Zoom or in person,” Ibrahim said. “Faculty actually care about you as an individual.”
She chose nursing because nurses are always there for their patients, and they provide empathy to those who really need it. Putting on the white coat symbolically means she is finally reaching the destination she has been working so hard for, Ibrahim said.
“It feels good to be able to get established in life and follow my dreams and my passion, and to start my life,” she said.
First-year Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences student Veronica Mata-Pacheco said she is excited to be at WesternU taking the next step in her career. She had a lot of research experience as an undergraduate, and she enrolled in the Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences program to further explore whether to move toward a research-focused career or enter an MD or DO program.
“I like the fact that in research you investigate questions in hopes of getting an answer,” Mata-Pacheco said. “Depending on the research you do, you can affect communities and populations on a wide scale. That was one of the driving factors to go into research. You get to answer those questions, hypothesize, theorize, get more knowledge in certain fields.”
College of Podiatric Medicine (CPM) student Natalie Cornelison was drawn to the profession because she grew up playing soccer and was a podiatric patient.
“I have always been interested in sports medicine. I appreciated the care I received from my podiatrist, who was so passionate about helping me get moving again and playing soccer again,” Cornelison said. “I want to do the same thing – help people get back on their feet and make sure they’re enjoying the things they want to do without experiencing foot or ankle pain.”
One important draw was WesternU’s emphasis on interprofessional education, Cornelison said, where students from different disciplines learn from each other and work together.
“Being able to work with students from other health care disciplines will be a unique experience. I think that is what sets WesternU apart and makes it unique. I’m looking forward to that. It was great meeting students in my cohort, and it’s exciting to meet other people at the University as well.”
First-year College of Optometry student Jazmine Smith said meeting her classmates, faculty and staff during Welcome Week was comforting.
“I felt like faculty and administration were very helpful and informative,” Smith said. “You can tell they care about the students and what our experience will be here at WesternU. Everybody wants to make sure we’re all together, that we help each other and are very supportive before it starts. Overall, I would say I’m very excited to get started. This is a big deal. This is a great accomplishment for all of us and it’s just going to be a really great journey.”