Two of Lebanon’s own graduate from COMP-Northwest

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

As many as 104 students from the Class of 2022 earned their doctorate in osteopathic medicine during COMP-Northwest’s commencement ceremony May 27. Two of these new doctors, both graduates of East Linn Christian Academy, were Austin Kleint and Whitley Nelson.

The eighth graduation event for the Lebanon campus kicked off with the national anthem sung by Dr. Juliette Asuncion, a 2009 graduate of COMP-Pomona (Calif.), and primary care physician at Sweet Home Family Medicine.

Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital Chaplain Wes Sedlacek gave the invocation, referring first to the unique challenges of the past few years that highlighted the words “pivot,” “nimble” and “resilience,” words describing the demands on each student as they tried to earn a medical degree during the pandemic.

“It is likely that you will forever be impacted by this pandemic and the experiences that you’ve had,” Sedlacek said. “What you’ve learned these past years will make you better doctors and, most importantly, better people.”

Dr. Robin Farias-Eisner, president of Western University of Health Sciences, expressed his interest in furthering equitable healthcare and serving rural communities. He also gave thanks to the Heatherington Foundation, which donated 150 acres of land and monetary support for future expansion of COMP-Northwest in Lebanon.

“This year’s commencement theme is ‘gratitude,’ and I give gratitude to this community for the extraordinary support that you have given to these esteemed graduates,” he said.

Austin Kleint, center.

Dr. Austin Kleint

will fulfill his three-year pediatric residency at Baylor College of Medicine in San Antonio, Texas. He always knew his interest was in pediatrics, and that option was only cemented more as soon as he started rotations, he said.

Many new students to the college say it’s hard work taking in so much information, “like drinking from a fire hose,” but for Kleint the four years flew by fast, he said. Putting in his time and not taking breaks got him through successfully.

“You’re just consistently studying, just trying to stay diligent,” Kleint said. “If you can do that, I don’t think it’s that difficult.”

But if he had to pinpoint a moment when things felt a little challenging, he’d say it was during the end of the second year when he was getting ready for rotations and taking two medical licensing exams while still going to classes and finishing schoolwork.

As he forges ahead, the 26-year-old will carry with him one of his favorite memories: the Student Healthcare Immersion Program that he created. Kleint went to classes at Lebanon High School and East Linn Christian Academy, encouraging students to attend a three-day summer camp that exposed them to careers in healthcare.

Sixty students attended his camp where they took part in several activities, such as learning how to set up intravenous lines (IVs), getting certified in CPR, practicing mock-patient encounters, and participating in a medical escape room.

“It was a good blend of education and fun,” Kleint said.

He’ll also carry with him lots of good advice he received from doctors, he said, such as not relying on one test for a diagnosis. For example, if a doctor believes someone has tuberculosis and the test comes back negative, but the doctor still thinks it’s tuberculosis, “do not risk that patient’s life on that one test.”

“Do not gamble somebody’s life on one test,” he reiterated. “You really have to use your intuition.”

On graduation day, Kleint was able to fulfill his 92-year-old grandmother’s remaining goal in life: to see him graduate. Now he will move on to San Antonio where he’s already settled in to a place and where his dog, Shadow, waits for him. He has no solid plans yet for post-residency, but expects he’ll return to Oregon. For him, it’s too far ahead to start planning yet.

“We’ll see where God takes me,” Kleint said.

Whitley Nelson, center.

Dr. Whitley Nelson will complete a five-year general surgery residency at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis. While graduating from COMP-Northwest is a big day for her, she said, she’s excited to move on to the next step in her training.

“I feel like it’s really humbling because it’s taken so long to get here and I feel like there’s just so many people that have supported me on this path,” she said.

Nelson feels she might not have been able to get this far without all the support and encouragement she’s received from friends and family, as well as all the patients who’ve contributed to her learning, she said. One of the more challenging times, though, was “the ups and downs since 2020.”

For herself and many of her classmates who are passionate about patient advocacy, staying focused on learning and self-care was hard because they wanted to be involved in what was going on around them, Nelson said.

“When the world was going through so many different things with COVID and 2020, with the George Floyd thing and the real need for a lot of change in our social infrastructure and some of the big issues around social justice, I think it was hard for a lot of us,” she said.

Many in the Class of 2022 are very interested in serving under-served populations in different regions, Nelson said, and some of the social injustices in the United States contribute to the health of many patients.

“People don’t really think about how racism affects health, (but) it does a lot,” she said.

To attend medical school, Nelson took advantage of a primary care loan forgiveness program that covers many of her costs in exchange for working in rural Oregon after her residency. That works out just fine for this local girl who wants to do general surgery in rural Oregon because, she said, she’s passionate about rural communities like Lebanon where she grew up.

“That’s the type of community I want to give back to,” Nelson said.

As she continues her journey, one of the “most cherished” memories the 28-year-old will keep with her is the time spent with colleagues who will remain friends with her into the future.

“We did this hard thing together and we graduated together,” she said.