WesternU Welcomes 1,000 New Students

By Jeff Keating and Rodney Tanaka

ONTARIO, Calif. - 08/09/2010 -- Dr. Jeffrey Saal had some sound advice for Western University of Health Sciences' incoming students during the University's 2010 Convocation Ceremony.

2010 Convocation SlideshowSound, as in, don't feel like you have to be making one all the time.

"You must learn to be a good listener," he told more than 1,000 future health professionals gathered at the Ontario Convention Center on Saturday, Aug. 7, "and an even better teacher and communicator."

Saal, co-founder of Sports, Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Medicine Associates (SOAR) and a former team physician to the San Francisco 49ers football team, was the keynote speaker at WesternU's Convocation, which formally welcomes new students to the University and officially opens its academic year. The 2010 Convocation was for the first time held at the convention center to accommodate WesternU's largest-ever entering class, their families and friends, and university administration, faculty and staff.

More than 4,000 people attended Convocation and the ensuing white coat ceremonies for each of the University's nine colleges. Students were individually introduced at the separate ceremonies, then coated by a member of that college's faculty, signifying the student's commitment to his or her chosen field.

WesternU's colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, Allied Health Professions, Graduate Nursing, Dental Medicine, Optometry, Podiatric Medicine and Biomedical Sciences held their white coat ceremonies at the convention center immediately following Convocation. The College of Pharmacy held its white coat event in the Avalon Ballroom at Pomona Fairplex; the College of Veterinary Medicine's was at Bridges Hall of Music in Claremont.

Dr. Philip Pumerantz, president of WesternU, presided over Convocation, noting that it caps a week of orientation for new students at the school and is meant "to welcome and to honor the University's entering classes." Dr. Benjamin Cohen, WesternU provost and chief operating officer, followed the president by wishing "each and every one of you a successful journey."

After describing his personal path to a career in medicine, Saal -- in addition to advocating good listening skills -- encouraged the students to embrace the challenges that come their way, and to trust themselves.

"When challenged, the best of you has an opportunity to come out. Grasp that moment. Do not let it go until you have accomplished what you believe in. When challenged, you can either turn and walk away or believe in your abilities."

Several times, Saal stressed that focusing on patients is the key to success.

"Take good care of your patients, and never lose focus on the fact that they are the reason you are in this profession. ... Being learned and smart is not enough. You must be able to communicate information to your patients in a fashion that they can understand. This is an art that you must endeavor to perfect.

"Hippocrates is quoted as saying, 'To the love of his profession the physician should add a love of humanity.' "

Following Convocation, each college held individual white coat ceremonies. The College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific welcomed more than 200 first-year students with a white coat ceremony featuring keynote remarks from Paula Crone, DO, COMP '92. Crone is Founding Executive Associate Dean of COMP-Northwest, the WesternU campus scheduled to open in August 2011 in Lebanon, Ore., with 100 first-year osteopathic medical students.

Crone lauded the Class of 2014 assembled before her, telling them, "You represent the best and brightest of your generation ... I applaud you for taking on this life's work."

Like Saal, Crone offered some guidance to the students. "If you desire to be an outstanding osteopathic physician, you never stop learning. Patients will put their trust in you, sometimes solely because you have 'Doctor' in front of your name or 'D.O.' after it.

"The secret of caring for the patient is caring for the patient."

Donning a white coat for the first time represents the official start of the journey toward becoming a professional, said first-year COMP student Matt Nienaber, DO '14. He appreciates the warm reception that WesternU provides to new students.

"Everybody is very enthusiastic and welcoming," he said. "When I first interviewed here, that's what struck me about the school. Everyone is motivated for students to succeed."

The College of Podiatric Medicine white coat ceremony featured several prominent guests, including American Podiatric Medical Association President Kathleen Stone, DPM, and California Podiatric Medical Association President Michael Cornelison, DPM.

Keynote speaker Hienvu C. Nguyen, DPM, told students that the white coat symbolizes the humanistic values inherent in providing patient care.

"It's a reminder to students and faculty that we're are all here to help others," Nguyen said. "It all begins today."

He also made a point to call the students future podiatric physicians rather than future podiatrists. These students are receiving training comparable to MDs and DOs, he said.

"We're the profession that keeps people walking," Nguyen said. "We don't just look at their feet. We look at their entire body, their medical history and their personal history. The podiatric profession is an important member of the multidisciplinary team."

The importance of the ceremony left an impression on students' families watching with pride in the audience.

"It's a dream being achieved," said June Graeber, mother of incoming College of Podiatric Medicine student Mark Graeber. "He will be a doctor who cares deeply and passionately about podiatry and the people whose lives he will impact."

Students and their families were invited to attend the annual President's Welcome Lunch on the WesternU campus in Pomona following Convocation and white coat ceremonies. Saturday's events capped weeklong orientation activities for each program, which included the annual President's Ice Cream Social hosted by Dr. and Mrs. Pumerantz. New students also got a feel for what to expect during their first year.

The College of Pharmacy staff is working hard to build a good support group for the students, said Linda Danh, PharmD '14.

"They made it clear they're here to help us succeed," she said.

Many new students talked about the friendly, welcoming atmosphere on campus.

"I feel the aloha spirit here," said new COMP student Eileen Domingo, DO '14, who grew up in Maui, Hawaii. "Especially in my school. I don't feel the cutthroat competition. I feel the camaraderie."


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