More than 100 alumni and guests attended the first Western University of Health Sciences Alumni Reunion, held Sept. 15, 2018 on the WesternU Pomona, California campus.
WesternU has nearly 3,900 students who volunteer at more than 100 community health fairs each year, said WesternU Vice President for University Advancement Diane M. Abraham, PhD, MBA. More than $13 million in scholarships are awarded to students every year. WesternU graduates more than 1,000 new alumni annually, and the University has more than 15,000 graduates who practice in every U.S. state and a dozen foreign territories and countries.
“You are each a part of the University’s story, which began 41 years ago when Dr. Philip Pumerantz set up shop in a storefront on an outdoor mall, just a few steps away from where we are now,” Abraham said. “While the University’s core principles of science, caring and humanism have remained a constant over the years, it’s incredible when you think how far we’ve come in just a few short decades, and what we might achieve in the decades to come.
“WesternU President Daniel Wilson is leading the University as it continues its march forward into the future of health care education.”
In a video message, Wilson welcomed alumni back to campus and highlighted the University’s many accomplishments and future plans.
“I thank you, not just for being here today with your fellow alumni, but for being a member of the WesternU family and for acting as an ambassador of our University in its mission, vision and values,” Wilson said. “I hope you remember wherever life takes you, you always have a home here at WesternU. Please come back often to share your news, your memories and your dreams. My very best wishes to each and every one of you.”
The reunion brought back familiar faces and may spark future collaborations. College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) alumnus Brian Laufer, DO ’83, is associate chief of staff for clinical informatics and chief of the Clinical Informatics Service for the Alaska VA Healthcare System. The Clinical Informatics Service oversees all local configurations, support and training for the Alaska VA Electronic Health Record as well as 21 telemedicine programs in Alaska.
Laufer works full time for the Alaska VA remotely from Southern California, supervising the Clinical Informatics Service and also caring for patients via telemedicine. He travels to Alaska one week per quarter. He is interested in talking with COMP about incorporating telemedicine into residency programs.
“I think that telemedicine already plays a role nationally and internationally in improving access to medical care in underserved areas,” Laufer said. “I believe that role will continue to evolve and expand as the technology continues to advance.”
Laufer is a member of COMP’s second class. He said he and his classmates would get together on nights and weekends to study, and everyone knew each other on campus. Seeing WesternU grow reminds him of days spent in the president’s office.
“This was Dr. Pumerantz’s vision,” Laufer said. “At lunch we would sit and talk in his office. This was the vision he shared, creating a university.”
College of Health Sciences graduate Veronica Oforlea, MSHPE ’98, said she loved her WesternU experience. After earning her Master of Science in Health Professions Education at WesternU, she continued her education and earned a Doctorate in Educational Leadership. She is the Dean of Health, Wellness and Psychological Services at Santa Ana College.
The lessons she learned in her statistics class, taught by Gary Gugelchuk, PhD, who is now WesternU’s provost and chief operating officer, carried her through her professional education and her chosen career, she said.
“He changed my whole world in terms of understanding how statistics play in life, and within data-driven research in decision making,” Oforlea said. “Every time I read a research article, and when I worked on my dissertation, I thought about him. He was so instrumental in really shaping my world to becoming a lifelong learner.”
COMP transitioned from a single college into Western University of Health Sciences while Oforlea was a student, and earlier this year, her college changed its name from the College of Allied Health Professions to the College of Health Sciences.
“It just shows that the University continues to be innovative,” Oforlea said. “It continues to meet the needs of students and future patients.”
College of Pharmacy (COP) graduate Deric Hui, PharmD ’03, sat at a table with several classmates from the Class of 2003. When applying to pharmacy schools, WesternU was the first to invite him to campus. He was impressed with the technology available and he liked the curriculum.
“I decided to stay with WesternU, and I have no regrets at all,” he said.
COP prepared him well for his board exams, and he and his classmates were well prepared compared to students from other programs on rotation, he added. Hui is now patient pharmacy manager at Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park.
“We could see we were a little different when we went on rotation,” he said. “We were very comfortable speaking in front of an audience. Our class did a lot of those kind of projects.”
College of Graduate Nursing alumna Idongesit Stephens, MSN/FNP ’16, said she had a lot of sleepless nights while balancing a full-time job and full-time coursework, but it was worth the effort.
“It’s always been my goal to get an advanced degree,” she said. “With the knowledge you acquire with training you see nursing from a different perspective. You know you can make a change at your place of work.”
Admissions looked at the applicant as a whole rather than focusing just on grades, said College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) alumnus Grant Dunbar, DVM ’13, who owns Chino Hills Animal Hospital. He liked the prospective student interview process and was drawn to CVM’s Problem Based Learning curriculum.
During his internship he felt he was on par with graduates from other veterinary schools. He now precepts third-year CVM students who rotate through his clinic.
“I want to give back. I wanted to help them out and give them what I felt I needed at that stage,” Dunbar said. “I also feel like it’s a good opportunity to potentially hire students when they graduate.”
His advice to current students? “Don’t stress too much. Remember what they have been taught. Have confidence applying what they know.”
The reunion provided alumni the opportunity to reconnect, mingle and network. Several colleges offered continuing education classes and campus tours. Admissions presented “What does it take to get into WesternU today?” and Information Technology held a Virtual Reality Expo.
“Thank you to all the wonderful WesternU alumni who helped make our inaugural reunion a great success,” Abraham said. “We are looking forward to building on this momentum and welcoming back many more graduates in the years to come.”