COMP-NW graduation includes locals

Ninety-four new doctors finished their formal schooling June 2 at  Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest’s graduation ceremony in Lebanon.

The COMP-NW commencement celebration, held in a giant tent outside Boulder Falls Inn, across from Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, was one of five Western University ceremonies, held at different locations during the first weekend of June, but with a common thread.

“Each of these celebrations includes what is perhaps the most meaningful feature of a WesternU commencement – the hooding ceremony,” Richard Bond, a 1982 graduate of the first class and chairman of the Board of Trustee, told the Lebanon graduates.

The ceremony included some local community members in addition to the medical school staff and students. A color guard from American Legion Post 51 presented the flag, Dr. Juliette Asuncion of Sweet Home Family Medicine performed the national anthem, and The Rev. Peter J. O’Brien of St. Edward Catholic Church gave the invocation.

Bond welcomed the medical students who were awarded their doctorates in osteopathic medicine as part of COMP-Northwest’s third graduating class from the Lebanon campus. They bring the total osteopathic physicians graduating from COMP-Northwest since 2015 to 299.

“At our very first commencement, 35 years ago, we asked our graduates to designate a special person to formally place the academic hood on them after taking their diploma in hand,” Bond said. “The practice continues to this day.”

It is one of the ways WesternU honors the contributions and support of those who helped students reach their goals, he said.

Since 2015, 299 osteopathic physicians have graduated from WesternU COMP-Northwest.

It was a big day.

Glyn and Colleen Westlake traveled from Sparks, Nev. to celebrate Commencement with their son, Babe Westlake. Babe was injured while playing high school football, and an orthopedic surgeon helped him recover. That sparked his interest in medicine, and now he will enter an orthopedic surgery residency at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis.

Standing on stage with their son and hooding him was a special moment, Colleen said, because his parents knew everything that went into his accomplishment.

“As a parent, you’re so excited for him, but you also see it takes a huge toll. You can see the exhaustion and the stress, and you’re just trying to be supportive without acting too worried,” Colleen said. “To see your child succeed and be able to realize their passion and to know what an accomplishment this is that he’s achieved, it’s an honor to be his parent.”

Babe is one of 32 COMP-Northwest graduates who will complete residency training in the Northwest – 15 in Oregon, 12 in Washington, four in Idaho, and one in Wyoming.

A total of 62 students from the Class of 2017 will go into primary care fields including family medicine (32), internal medicine (20), pediatrics (seven), and OB-GYN (three).

Graduate Sarah Crowe, who is going into primary care, said graduating feels surreal, exciting and scary. Crowe is entering a family medicine residency at Skagit Regional Health in Mount Vernon, Washington, and plans to practice in Sweet Home, where her husband grew up.

About two-thirds of the COMP-Northwest Class of 2017 is entering primary care; one of the recruiting goals for COMP-Northwest, and a key reason why WesternU established the Oregon campus, is to train primary care physicians to serve rural areas.

“I think osteopathic medicine in general embodies primary care in that it’s a whole-body approach,” Crowe said. “Specialists tend to look at specific things. We look at the whole picture and try to solve the root cause.”

Having the title of “doctor” in front of her name is exciting and scary, she said.

“You know you’ve done the work, but at the same time that’s a lot of responsibility,” Crowe said, adding with a laugh, “I keep telling friends and family I’m afraid people are going to start listening to me now.”

The importance of having the title “physician” was stressed in the Commencement address delivered by Adrienne White-Faines, MPA, CEO of the American Osteopathic Association.

In her address, White-Faines emphasized the importance of the graduates connecting with their future patients. The new physicians are entering medicine with unimaginable access to data and technology, she said, but individual touch and compassion remain osteopathic medicine’s calling cards.

“No technology can replace your ability to see and engage the person within the patient,” she said.

White-Faines told a story about ordering Starbucks at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, and how since her name is always mispronounced, she asked the barista to just write the number 10 on her cup.

“A few moments later, a barista repeatedly called out the name “Pauline,” who she happened to be standing next to. She told White-Faines that she was returning home from the funeral for her sister — her last living relative — and she had no friends. She just wanted to hear someone say her name.

White-Faines asked if she could give her a “big osteopathic hug,” and has never forgotten Pauline.

“I am asking you, as Dr. A.T. Still envisioned for you, embrace your opportunity to create change. Never before in history has there ever been a better time to be a DO,” she said.

WesternU honored another pioneer of osteopathic medicine during Commencement. WesternU President Daniel R. Wilson, MD, PhD, recognized Ethan R. Allen, DO, DSc (Hon.), treasurer for the WesternU Board of Trustees, for his service to the University. Dr. Allen retired May 31 after more than 60 years of practicing medicine.

“Without Dr. Allen there would be no Western University of Health Sciences and we would not be here today,” Wilson said, alluding to Allen’s role as a co-founder of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific in Pomona, Calif., in 1977. COMP is now the flagship college of WesternU.

To close the ceremony, COMP and COMP-Northwest Dean Paula M. Crone, DO ’92, asked the newly-minted physicians to continue being leaders in their communities.

“The patients in your communities will come to recognize you as one of the special physicians – those caring, compassionate, humanistic doctors that no one expected still existed. I am proud to say they still do, and all of you will carry that forward,” Crone said.

In addition to family and friends, leaders from the Lebanon community attended the celebration.

“I think COMP-Northwest has made an enormous difference in the community,” said Bob Elliott, Lebanon City Council president. “The students and faculty come and work in the city. They come and intertwine themselves in the community, and it’s great. I feel proud. These are all my kids. They tell me I’m family out here, so they are all my kids.”