Whitley Nelson, a 2011 graduate of East Linn Christian Academy, got a head start on her medical school education this summer by taking an anatomy class which was offered at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest.

On Friday, Nelson joined the 106 other students as they officially began their medical school experience with a convocation and white coat ceremony at the First Assembly of God in Lebanon.

Dr. Richard A. Bond, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, told the class of 2022 that he and his colleagues had full confidence in their abilities.

“If you didn’t have the right stuff, we wouldn’t have chosen you,” Bond said.

Gaining admission to COMP-NW is an accomplishment unto itself. The school received more than 4,000 applications and interviewed 350 candidates during the process of selecting these 107 future doctors.

The class is comprised of 60 women and 47 men. Fifty-eight of the students are from the Pacific Northwest. It is an extremely diverse class, with students born in China, South Korea, Ukraine, Colombia, Ireland, Japan and Greece.

For Nelson, COMP-NW was clearly the right fit.

“It is close to home and there is that support system. Even when you take that out, it is such a great school,” Nelson said. “Not only is Lebanon a community I care about, but the faculty is a community and a family. Spending time on campus before I applied, I could see that, and that family focus was something that was attractive to me.”

Becoming a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine was the only path which interested Nelson.

“I was really amazed by how OMM (osteopathic manipulative medicine) can promote and help our body’s natural healing process,” Nelson said. “OMM is a tool that might not apply to every patient, but when it does it can have an amazing effect.”

Nelson graduated from Oregon State University in 2017 with a major in kinesiology and is married to fellow ELCA alumnus Jerred Nelson. She felt some anxiety about the transition to medical school and was thankful for the opportunity to get an early start with the intensive anatomy course this summer.

Looking ahead, she has not yet decided on a specialty.

“I have a few things I’m interested in. I’m going in open-minded,” Nelson said.

Austin Kleint, also an ELCA grad, sent primary applications to about 10 schools. But when COMP-NW responded positively, he focused exclusively on gaining admission there and staying close to home. COMP-NW was the only medical school to which he submitted a secondary application.

“They have such a focus on patient/doctor interaction, which is really important to me,” said Kleint, who graduated from California Baptist University earlier this year after majoring in biology with a concentration in pre-med.

When Kleint was a sophomore at ELCA, he did a job shadow with Lebanon pediatrician Dana Kosmala, who is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. That experience changed his life.

“That’s when I first became interested in medicine,” Kleint said.

That interest grew because of his own health experiences. He injured his shoulder while playing football for Lebanon High School and subsequently injured his hip while wrestling for the Warriors. Kleint competed for LHS because ELCA does not offer either sport.

These injuries both required surgery, just a few weeks apart, during his senior year. As a result, he is considering orthopedic surgery as a specialty, although he remains undecided.

The keynote address was given by Dr. Mirabelle E. Fernandes Paul, the assistant dean for student affairs at COMP-NW.

She acknowledged that the students have a difficult task ahead of them. Paul noted that this challenge has been described in many ways: as a roller coaster ride, as survival of the fittest, as trying to eat an entire elephant in a day, and as trying to drink from a fire hose.

Each of these descriptions, she said, carries some truth. Her preferred metaphor, however, is that medical school is like a marathon.

“I like the marathon metaphor for many reasons: primarily because marathoners, unlike sprinters, are largely in competition with themselves, not with others,” Paul said. “On this marathon that is medical school, you’ll need to figure out for yourself what is truly important to you.”

Each of the 107 students was cloaked in a white coat and received a black doctor’s bag. Dr. John Pham, the vice dean at COMP-NW, described the significance of the white coat.

“The white coat that you will wear shortly has been a symbol of the health care professions for generations. Many physicians have worn this coat, and wearing it is a privilege bestowed upon all those who earn a place in the healing arts,” Pham said. “With great privilege also comes great responsibility to your future patients, to your profession and to your community.”

COMP-NW is part of the Western University of Health Sciences. Founded in 1977 in Pomona, California, it is now comprised of nine separate colleges, including the Lebanon campus. These colleges offer specialties in biomedical sciences, dental medicine, health sciences, medical sciences, nursing, optometry, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant studies, pediatric medicine and veterinary medicine. 

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