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WesternU welcomes next generation of health care providers

by Rodney Tanaka

August 11, 2014

Read 5 mins

No law or public policy will change health care as powerfully or meaningfully as the next generation of health care providers will themselves, Western University of Health Sciences’ incoming class heard Saturday, August 9, 2014.

California State Sen. Norma Torres, D-32nd District, told more than 1,000 students entering WesternU’s nine graduate health professions colleges that new health-care laws passed at the state and federal levels “”cannot succeed without the work of skilled, and trained, health care providers. It is your leadership, your training, your dedication and your skills that will help fight cancer, cure deadly diseases, rehabilitate patients and provide care to those who need it.””

Torres was the keynote speaker for WesternU’s annual Convocation and White Coat Ceremonies, held at Fairplex in Pomona. Students and their families celebrated the beginning of their graduate health sciences education during the event, which was presided over by Philip Pumerantz, PhD, founding president of WesternU.

Torres, a former 911 dispatcher, Pomona mayor and state assemblywoman who is the Democratic nominee for the 35th U.S. Congressional District seat this November, told the new students that “”the men and women you are sitting with today will be the ones leading us into a new era of health care in this country. This new era will be characterized by a system of patient-centered care – a system where the needs of the patient come first.

“”You will be the face of this better health care system we are building. You will be the change,”” she concluded.

The Convocation ceremony also included a special presentation of the 2014 WesternU faculty awards by Fadi Khasawneh, BPharm, PhD, chair of WesternU’s Academic Senate.

College of Veterinary Medicine Professor Wael Khamas, BVM&S, MS, PhD, received the Harriet K. and Philip Pumerantz Award for Leadership and Service. The award recognizes a faculty member for exemplary leadership, service and contributions to university committees, local and professional communities and societies, the development and implementation of university policies and programs through non-administrative roles, and for making documentable impact on the quality of the university and demonstrating a commitment to high standards of professional life.

College of Optometry Assistant Professor Frank Spors, PhD, received the WesternU Distinguished Teacher Award, which honors excellence in teaching, contribution to the educational mission of the university, demonstrated concern for students and their learning and a commitment to high standards of professional life by a faculty member.

Following the award presentations, as well as official welcomes from Provost and COO Gary Gugelchuk, PhD, and Board of Trustees, faculty, student, and alumni representatives, the academic year was declared officially open by Dr. Pumerantz. Students and their families then migrated to eight sites in Pomona and Claremont for each college’s white coat ceremony, which symbolizes students’ entry into the health professions.

At the white coat ceremony for the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP), keynote speaker and 1984 COMP graduate James Dearing, DO, urged members of the Class of 2018 to “”push yourself to be the best possible physician you can be.””

He likened the role of a primary care provider – which osteopathic physicians often become – to that of a point guard on basketball team: someone who sees the entire game at once, knows all of the resources and skills at his disposal based on the situation, and can accurately determine what needs to be done next. The health care system of the 21st century demands that kind of skill set if it has any hope of succeeding, he said.

“”If you’re not involved, somebody else will be, and that might not be a good thing,”” said Dearing, chief medical officer for the John C. Lincoln Health Network in Arizona. “”We are the point guards of our industry, and now is the time to play ball.””

COMP-Pomona’s 227 new students then took to the stage to don their white coats with the help of COMP faculty members. A week earlier, on August 2, 2014, 106 more DO students had donned white coats at the university’s COMP-Northwest campus in Lebanon, Oregon, making the total number of entering COMP students 333.

COMP Assistant Dean of Longitudinal & Experiential Learning and Associate Professor Edward Barnes II, MD, FACP, talked about collaboration in his keynote speech for the College of Podiatric Medicine white coat ceremony.

“”Collaboration and integration. That’s the future of health care,”” he said. “”Here at WesternU, we not only speak about interprofessional education, we also practice interprofessional patient care. I believe it is very important to unify our brain power to tap into our full potential in order to change and improve our health system.””

Podiatric medical students will participate in WesternU’s Interprofessional Education curriculum, and they will also sit shoulder to shoulder with dental and osteopathic medicine students in their core classes.

“”Collaboration and teamwork will become natural for you, which by the way is very different than the generations that came before you,”” Barnes said.

He shared his seven values to live by, the “”seven P’s:”” plan, prepare, perform, play, pay it forward, professionalism, and pray. And he closed with a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “”Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.””

“”Much like you getting cloaked today with your infamous white coat, remember to immerse yourself in your training here at WesternU and be fully involved in every second from beginning to end,”” Barnes said. “”Your future patients are relying on you.””

WesternU students embraced the significance of donning the white coat for the first time.

“”It’s a step toward the next chapter of our life,”” said first-year College of Optometry student Linh Ho, OD ’18. “”We worked so hard to get here. Having that white coat means you’re officially entering this new life.””

Several WesternU students praised faculty and staff for making them feel welcome from the moment they arrived on campus.

“”My classmates have been so friendly and excited to start,”” said first-year COMP student Josey Strathe, DO ’18. “”The staff has been very supportive and really emphasized how they want to be there for us in every way, which makes all the anxious feelings about starting school go away after hearing that.””

Strathe chose WesternU after reading a letter by President Philip Pumerantz that described the university’s holistic, humanistic, patient-centered approach to medicine.

“”That stood out for me,”” she said. “”When I came to visit, I could tell how much everybody cares.””

First-year College of Podiatric Medicine student Jeff Alphonse, DPM ’18, said he wanted to come to WesternU because of CPM Dean Lawrence Harkless, DPM.

“”He seemed so invested in me, before I even got accepted,”” Alphonse said. “”All the faculty and students seem to be so genuine and seem so passionate about this program. Everyone seems so invested. They want the best out of everyone.””

Carl Smith Jr. has attended WesternU’s Convocation ceremonies as an incoming student, and he returned Saturday as a proud parent. He and his wife, Sheri, both graduated from WesternU’s Physician Assistant program in the late 1990s, and Carl is also nearing completion of the College of Graduate Nursing’s Master of Science-Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) program.

Their daughter, Stephanie, is entering CGN’s Associate Degree to Masters (ADN to MSN) program. Carl and Sheri also mentored another new CGN student, Jeffrey Lo.

“”I’m very excited for them,”” Carl Smith Jr. said. “”I have a personal belief that extends beyond just my family. As a nurse and PA, we have been given the opportunities and gifts to help and heal people. We have an obligation to pick our replacements. These are people who will take care of us when we’re old and take care of other family members.””

Watch the 2014 Convocation and White Coat video

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