First East Linn students join COMP-Northwest

When COMP-Northwest held its convocation entry ceremony for the Class of 2022 on Aug. 3, among the new students were two from East Linn Christian Academy – the first.

Whitley Nelson, 2011 graduate, and Austin Kleint, a 2014 graduate, were accepted into the college to pursue their medical degrees after completing their undergraduate work at Oregon State University and California Baptist University, respectively.

At the convocation, faculty placed white coats upon 107 students of the class of 2022, symbolizing their entry into the health care profession.

The coat has been a symbol of privilege and responsibility of the health care profession for generations, explained Dr. John Pham, vice dean of COMP-Northwest.

“The white coat is just a symbol, but it’s a powerful symbol that marks the transition from being a pre-med to joining the long tradition of outstanding osteopathic physicians,” he told the students.

Mirabelle Fernandes, assistant dean of student affairs, addressed the students about the fact they are about to receive a lot of information in a short amount of time. She talked about the many metaphors student doctors use to explain what medical school is like, including “trying to eat an elephant in a day,” “trying to grease a three-legged cow,” and the oft-cited “trying to drink from a fire hose.”

Then she added her own metaphor.

“I believe that medical school is like a marathon, not a sprint.”

Marathoners are largely in competition with themselves, not others, she said. And though the elephant is large, it can be accomplished if students take small bites every day.

“Every day is different,” she said. “Some days, a five mile uphill hike will feel easy. Other days, a flat mile will feel impossible.”

Richard Bond, chairman of the board of trustees, said he sees two challenges the new students will face: the overwhelming breadth and depth of the material they are about to be exposed to, and the uncharted wilderness of health care reform.

Nelson already got a taste of what to expect, as she just completed the Intensive Summer Anatomy course.

“It was really hard, but it was fun,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a good experience to help me transition and kick off this next step.”

After high school, Nelson studied kinesiology at OSU, and looked into nursing and physical therapy.

“I think medicine was always there in the back of my mind; I just didn’t consider it as an option for me,” she said.

During that time, her grandmother passed away from cancer, and the experience was sort of a catalyst to think about becoming a physician, she said. Then she did some medical work in Costa Rica through International Service Learning.

“That was an amazing learning experience, and that solidified that medicine is the right thing. That’s my fit and that’s where I want to go.”

The 25-year-old is married to Jerred Nelson, whom she’s known since fifth grade and dated since junior high. They both attended ELCA. He’s a police officer at Sweet Home Police Department.

“We definitely realize it’s a long haul, and that’s fine,” she said. “He’s very supportive.”

Though it may seem obvious to choose a medical school in one’s hometown, Nelson said she discussed options with her husband and they still decided COMP-Northwest was the best fit.

“Some of the opportunities and resources available to students are very great,” she said. “The faculty and the staff at COMP-Northwest are a family. That’s just kind of the environment there, and they think of the students as part of that family, and that kind of community translates to this being my community, and that was something that was attractive to me for my medical school education.”

Nelson hasn’t settled on a specialty yet, though she already gleaned experience in some fields, such as emergency and hospice care.

“There’s a lot of things that interest me. I’m just really excited to be starting this path to become a doctor.”

Looking back on her time at ELCA, Nelson recalled Carolyn Reister, a coach and academic adviser, as one who makes herself available to support the students.

“She’s really caring, very thorough and very available for her students if they need something,” she said.

Nelson also didn’t hesitate to mention Mike Reardon, who taught her chemistry. She said he was  a “great teacher” and one who cares about his students.

“I really enjoyed chemistry with Mr. Reardon. I was confident in chemistry going into undergrad, which I think helped me as far as deciding to go into medicine because I felt really good about the subject matter.”

Kleint also sang Reardon’s praises as a chemistry teacher.

“He’s one of the reasons I like medicine,” Kleint said. “Chemistry is so awesome, and he makes interesting classes.”

Kleint also noted coach Karla Pearson (“She’s open, honest, personable.”) and Wendy Pool (“She taught economics, which wasn’t my favorite class, but it’s easy to get along with her and I loved her children.”).

During high school, Kleint played football and tennis and competed in wrestling through Lebanon High School. He continued to wrestle at Cal Baptist while majoring in biology with a concentration on pre-med. It was during his sophomore year at ELCA that he developed a keen interest in medicine.

“I was taking anatomy. It was my favorite class,” he said. “I fell in love with studying anatomy; it was just so interesting to me.”

Local pediatrician Dr. Dana Kosmala would mentor him when he visited her daughter.

“She saw how I was interested in anatomy and physiology, so she would go through different medical cases and ask me to come up with a diagnosis. I fell in love with medicine then,” he said.

Kleint has a habit of volunteering for things, such as holding canned food drives or helping coach wrestling. During college, he started Bubbles for Troubles.

“Whenever any athletic team would travel, they’d bring back all the soap they didn’t use from the hotels, and we donated that to a homeless shelter,” he said.

He hopes to continue volunteering in Linn County after he becomes a doctor. He said many new doctors from a small community may want to move to a bigger city, but he believes he can do more in rural areas.

“I feel like I can make an impact in my society, maybe help with graduation rates or something with the community,” he said. “I wouldn’t be coming back to Lebanon if I didn’t want to help out.”

The 22-year-old hasn’t decided on a specialty yet, but is sure he’ll figure it out during third and fourth year rotations when students gain experience in all fields of health. He knows the next four years will be hard, but Kleint said his experience in wrestling taught him perseverance.

“I know it’s going to be tough,” he said. “I know I’m gonna learn a lot, but you just suffer in silence and get through it.”

The class of 2022 begins their courses Aug. 13. After they put on their new white coats at the convocation, they each received a black doctor bag and walked into their future.

“With the symbolism of your white coat, your newly purchased stethoscope and the black doctor bags, you are about to begin on a career path unlike any other,” said Paula Crone, dean of COMP-Northwest. “You have chosen a life of dedication and one of service. You will take a pledge of commitment today, and the osteopathic oath in four short years. In exchange, you are accorded a special place in our society. Use this privilege carefully, respectfully and wisely.”