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OHSU School of Medicine welcomes M.D. class of 2018

127th School of Medicine class first to undertake OHSU’s new and innovative M.D. curriculum

OHSU White Coat ceremony


Friday, August 15, 10 a.m. to noon 


PSU Stott Center 930 SW Hall St., Portland, OR 97201  

*** Editors: Media are invited to the class of 2018 White Coat Ceremony Friday, August 15, at 10 a.m., at the Portland State University Stott Center. Entering student-physicians will be “cloaked” in their first white coat in front of family, friends and faculty. Please call 503-494-8231 if you plan to send a crew.

This Friday, Oregon Health & Science University welcomes its 127th School of Medicine M.D. class with a White Coat Ceremony, a much-anticipated tradition that symbolizes the beginning of a medical student’s journey to becoming a physician.

The OHSU School of Medicine’s 127th class will be the first cohort to embark on OHSU’s pioneering new M.D. curriculum, which aligns physician education with the evolving health care landscape. Characterized as ‘curriculum transformation,’ the school’s medical education program focuses on ensuring future physicians are ready to not only thrive in the rapidly changing health care environment but also help shape the course of the health care revolution to meet the needs of society over the next 20 to 30 years. OHSU’s School of Medicine is one of 11 medical schools in the nation to receive a $1 million grant from the American Medical Association for its innovative approach to M.D. curriculum transformation.

The 2014-15 entering class – 82 percent of whom are Oregonians or have Oregon heritage – increased in size from last year, adding seven additional students as a part of OHSU’s goal to grow class sizes to meet the health care workforce needs of Oregon and beyond.

“As the nation undergoes vast changes in health care delivery – with Oregon on the forefront of health care reform – OHSU’s School of Medicine is embracing these changes and making bold moves in the way we educate future physicians,” said George Mejicano, M.D., senior associate dean for education, OHSU School of Medicine. “This incoming class is joining OHSU’s School of Medicine at an exciting time as we implement innovative teaching methods that can adapt quickly as medical knowledge and health care delivery expands and transforms.”

The White Coat Ceremony will include remarks from David Barnard, Ph.D., J.D., professor of medicine and Miles J. Edwards Chair in Professionalism and Comfort Care in the OHSU Center for Ethics. Barnard will deliver the J.S. Reinschmidt, M.D., Lecture — a special message to the students presented by a guest speaker each year.

“I am consistently impressed and inspired by the quality and diversity of our medical students and am excited to welcome the new class into the medical community as they receive their first white coats,” said Mark Richardson, M.D., M.B.A., dean of the OHSU School of Medicine. “The class of 2018 will be the first to learn in the School of Medicine’s state-of-the-art facilities in the newly opened Collaborative Life Sciences Building. As we seek to align education with the trajectory of health care reform, the CLSB offers us a space that truly exemplifies the interprofessional and collaborative nature of the future health care workforce.”

Following are seven profiles of incoming medical students and a brief description of their journey to a career in medicine. These students are available for media interviews.

Sophia Davis

Sophia Davis first visited OHSU when she was ten years old. She recalls: “My best friend at the time had cystic fibrosis and was, for neither the first nor the last time, an inpatient at Doernbecher Children's Hospital. Perhaps it was just a side thought, perhaps it was a premonition, but I remember thinking to myself, ‘Someday, I'm going to work here.’”

After completing her undergraduate work at Whitman College, in Walla Walla, Washington, the Eugene native then volunteered in a primary care clinic serving eastern Oregon’s rural ranching and logging communities.

When choosing a medical school, Sophia was drawn to OHSU for its pioneering new take on medical education. She said: “OHSU is responding to changes within the medical field and taking on the challenge of preparing students to most effectively meet the new demands within the profession. As a student, I am encouraged to see that OHSU is willing to be introspective and critical enough to recognize that change is needed and to be a leader among medical schools in finding a solution. As the inaugural class, there will certainly be bumps along the way as the new curriculum unfolds, but OHSU has set the precedent for constructive criticism and a spirit of improvement.”

Sophia said: “I am thrilled and feel extremely privileged to be going to a medical school that so highly values a hands-on, collaborative approach to learning.” As she looks toward the future, Sophia is particularly excited to explore the fields of internal medicine, primary care, public health and community medicine.

Callia and Ishak Elkhal

Portland natives Callia and Ishak Elkhal are jumping into life with both feet. Not only are the newly married couple enjoying being in the same city again after a long-distance relationship split between Callia’s undergraduate studies at Oregon State University and Ishak’s at Portland State University, they also begin their journey to becoming physicians this fall at OHSU.

Attending OHSU together is truly a dream come true for these high school sweethearts. As Ishak said: “OHSU has always been that target in the sky for many years — quite literally while I drove across the Ross Island bridge.”

Both students are eager for the challenges of medical school and speak with passion about their future careers as healers. Ishak challenges himself to remain “open-minded to all the possibilities that are ahead” and looks forward to the breadth of experiences OHSU’s new integrated curriculum provides. Callia anticipates opportunities to “work with kids” and envisions a medical education that will give her the opportunity to explore everything from pediatric critical care to community settings like a neighborhood clinic.

“The Northwest is very innovative and OHSU is, too, with its new curriculum,” she said. “While initially daunting, the more I learn about what we are going to be learning and why, the more I am looking forward to the start of this adventure.”

Alex Nielson

Alex Nielson spent five years in active duty as a Marine Corps Special Operations Combat Medic. After serving in combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Beaverton native returned to finish an undergraduate degree in biology at the University of Maryland.

Back in the United States, Alex also became involved with organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project and Team River Runner, which helps veterans find healing through paddle sports. Alex’s dual passion for water sports and the veterans community culminated in the summer of 2013 when he helped a fellow veteran become the first blind kayaker to paddle the entire Grand Canyon.

The third–generation Oregonian is thrilled to return home to study at OHSU and hopes to someday help improve emergency care in underserved parts of the state. He said: “Patients and families who live in rural regions face specific challenges when it comes to receiving medical care, and I want to improve that area of Oregon’s medical system. I believe that OHSU’s focus on interprofessional cooperation throughout its curriculum will provide me with the background and skills that I will need to accomplish my goals in the rural environment after graduation.”

While in Portland, Alex plans to continue his work with Team River Runner. “I am very excited about the close partnership between OHSU and the Portland VA Medical Center,” he said, “and I hope to recruit more participants and volunteers for the program as well as promote awareness for veteran welfare within the community.”

Alex Polston

Alex Polston from Banks, Oregon, already knows his way around OHSU. This Portland State University graduate has worked for the past three years as a research assistant in OHSU’s Vollum Institute. With this background, he is particularly “interested in seeing how novel genetic and epigenetic discoveries from our research labs will translate to the clinic.” He said: “We are entering the age of personalized medicine and it’s an exciting frontier. I don’t think there has ever been a better time to join the medical profession.”

At PSU, Alex pursued undergraduate work in political science and the ethos of service imbues his perspective on medical school, “Ever since high school I knew that I wanted to work in public service. My mother was a single parent and our experience living below the poverty line attracted me to working in the community around issues of social justice. It was while working on health care policy when I realized that physicians are some of the most powerful agents of compassion and change in our communities.”

During medical school, Alex is excited to pursue his interests in family medicine and rural health. He said: “In my opinion, there is no better place to learn how to be a skilled, yet caring, physician in the 21st century than OHSU.”

Kelsey Priest

You could say being a physician runs in the family for Kelsey Priest, M.P.H.:H.M.P. Two grandfathers, five aunts and uncles, her brother, her father-in-law (an OHSU alum) and sister-in-law are physicians. It was the experience of working in OHSU’s Balance Disorders Laboratory, however, that cemented her decision to become a physician. “Within a month of working in the lab, I realized I really enjoyed connecting with the folks who were volunteering to be in our research studies and learning about how research could be used to improve their care. I decided then that I wanted to become a physician,” said Kelsey.

Fast forward five years. Kelsey earned her Master of Public Health degree from Portland State University while working at OHSU in both the Balance Lab and the Department of Medicine’s pulmonary and critical care division. She served as the first president of the joint PSU and OHSU Institute for Healthcare Improvement Open School Chapter and is the current IHI-OS Regional Leader for the West Coast Region.

Now, she’s excited to be starting medical school just when a new curriculum is launching. “OHSU is facing today’s health system challenges head-on by preparing future physicians for the changing landscape,” she said. “Our generation is well poised to make a difference.” Kelsey’s long-term goal is to join the faculty at OHSU, where in addition to providing patient care, she can help influence the future of health care by teaching the next generation of medical professionals and continue her already substantive contributions to quality improvement research.

Michael Turner

Michael Turner wasn’t always sure he wanted to be a doctor. In fact, it took a lot of soul searching, a stint in the Marine Corps, an undergraduate degree in psychology from the Willamette Valley’s Corban University, and time spent working as a scribe in the emergency department at Salem Hospital before his path became clear. The California native found his calling as a volunteer in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and with the homeless community in Salem, Oregon. He said: “I realized that I felt most myself when helping others and whatever I do, it had to be a helping profession. Since health care is a very basic need which people on the margins do not always have adequate access to, medicine seemed like a great fit.”

After making Oregon his adopted home for nine years, Michael begins his medical school career as part of the inaugural class in OHSU’s new M.D. curriculum. He said: “I am excited to be receiving the benefit of a lot of intentional thinking and planning.” Michael spent the summer in Mexico learning Spanish so he may better serve his future patients.

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