Another 91 doctors graduated from COMP-NW

By Rodney Tanaka
WesternU Director of Communications

Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest celebrated 91 graduates at its commencement ceremony on May 26 at Boulder Falls Center.

Graduate Mariam Rija, DO ’23, was the first COMP-Northwest student to graduate after completing the DREAM (Diversity Recognized Emphasized and Assimilated into Medicine) program, a free enrichment program offered by the college to promote diversity at the campus and in the greater osteopathic medical community.

The three-day summer program was designed in 2017 by COMP-Northwest Associate Dean of Student Affairs Mirabelle Fernandes Paul, EdD, and COMP-Northwest students Jordan Bilbrew, Omar Rachdi, Giulia Di Bella and Jan Garo, who are all now COMP-Northwest alumni. The program equips underrepresented minority (URM) students who have a desire to be physicians but are denied the same messages and resources of empowerment that their non-URM counterparts have received early on. The workshops and talks given during the program were carefully chosen to counter dis-empowering messages and the lack of role models while equipping aspiring DREAMers with skills and understanding of the medical school application process.

Rija completed the DREAM program in August 2018 while working as a scribe after completing her sociology major and Spanish minor as an undergraduate.

“The program itself is fantastic. I learned so much about medicine,” Rija said. “We also got to share different parts of our identity. It creates a place for everyone to feel comfortable and share various parts that make us unique. Through this, we realize diversity in medicine is an asset and a strength.”

Rija and other DREAMers went on to become DREAM outreach coordinators for subsequent cohorts. Rija also became the president of White Coats for Black Lives in Lebanon when WesternU formed chapters on its two campuses in Lebanon and Pomona, Calif.

“DREAM also encouraged me to take on other leadership roles and opened up more opportunities,” Rija said. “Now the students below me all went on to be part of leadership. So the DREAM leadership has come full circle.”

During its first year at COMP-Northwest, the Class of 2023 endured the COVID-19 pandemic which caused nationwide shut-downs. Graduate Mehak Preet Kaur, DO ’23, who was selected by her peers to speak at the “This long iteration of the things that we have endured as a class isn’t to trigger suppressed memories, rather to pay homage to you, your resilience, your unwavering faith in yourselves and in this vocation. It is to commemorate your spirit that, despite it all, just keeps going,” Kaur said. “It was your spirit that advocated for a diversity curriculum. It was your spirit that led vaccination clinics and Zoom tutoring sessions. It was your spirit that entered into the unknown of clinical years yet stood by your ventilated patients and consoled their loved ones. You took the unknown and made it your own. You found a world within yourselves even when the world was collapsing. Your existence in this moment attests to the strength of the very spirit that got you here. So let’s continue to listen to that spirit.”

Keynote speaker WesternU Board of Trustees member Catherine Mater, MSCE, LHD (Hon.), talked about WesternU’s expansion plans in Lebanon, which includes developing a 150-acre riverfront campus on land donated by the Heatherington Foundation. Plans also include opening a College of Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health and an Interprofessional Behavioral Health Institute, where education, research, clinical practice, and community outreach will all take place.

WesternU President Robin Farias-Eisner, MD, PhD, MBA, thanked the Lebanon community. “You’ve been like a family to our beloved students and we’re so grateful to you.” He encouraged the graduates to let humanism be their guiding light, and to put the well-being of their patients at the forefront.

“As physicians, we have the privilege and responsibility of caring for people at their most vulnerable. The ability to empathize with patients and families and to truly listen and to make genuine connections is what I believe sets exceptional clinicians apart, and I believe you have those skills,” Farias-Eisner said. “Remember the heart of medicine and health care lies in the relationships you build with your patients and to that I am confident you will succeed. In a world where technology often dominates the conversation, never forget the importance of human interaction and a reassuring hand. Remember too that humility is essential in the practice of our art as you’ve heard today. Embrace these moments as opportunities to collaborate, listen and learn from your colleagues and patients.”