About WesternU

University History

History of WesternU

DO students working with patients; ACEHS logo

The bright sun and cloudless sky of a California spring day is the happy setting for a university commencement. As the stirring strains of the overture fade out, the faculty and graduates take their seats. Name after name is called and men and women move forward. They reach out for the hand extended by President Philip Pumerantz. Proud parents or spouses join in placing academic hoods over the heads of their smiling sons and daughters, and the new graduates return to their seats proudly holding their diplomas. It is a ceremony of dignity marking noteworthy accomplishments.

Accompanied by laughter, a few tears and embraces, commencement at Western University of Health Sciences bears vivid testimony to the dedication, hard work, sleepless nights and disciplined minds of men and women devoted to the healing arts. What greater symbol of the purposefulness and solidity of an educational endeavor than this important ceremony?

Birth of a College

In 1977, a small group of founders embraced the idea of creating a college of osteopathic medicine in the western United States and asked Philip Pumerantz, PhD, to come to California to start the new college and serve as founding president. They had a name (the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific—COMP), a President (Dr. Pumerantz) and a vision—a new, high quality college of osteopathic medicine. Their new president faced an enormous task—he was president of a medical college with no students, no faculty, no buildings, no classrooms, no equipment and little money.

On the day after Labor Day, 1977, Dr. Pumerantz set up shop in a rented office in a building on a moribund outdoor shopping mall in Pomona. He had some borrowed furniture, pens and pencils, paper and a telephone. It was immediately clear to President Pumerantz that a school without a track record or alumni would have to seek and win support with approaches that were far different from those employed by established institutions. He knew that he had to develop a following of supporters who believed in his ability and had confidence in his vision. And there were supporters: physicians, foundations and corporations and—with momentum building—state and federal agencies. By January 1978, COMP had earned pre-accreditation from the American Osteopathic Association; in July, provisional accreditation status, which was an acknowledgement that necessary financial resources were in hand.

Buildings were acquired on the mall, and after extensive redesigning, renovations commenced and were completed on an accelerated schedule. Faculty and administrators were hired, student applications were received.

On October 2, 1978—less than 13 months after Dr. Pumerantz and his family arrived from Chicago—classes began for the 36 members of the Charter Class of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific. By the time of their graduation in 1982, COMP was fully accredited.

Expanding the Mission

Pioneering again, President Pumerantz and his team had their eyes firmly set on the next decade. An evolving health care system had new needs for certain kinds of caregivers. With the establishment of a School of Allied Health Professions, including educational programs to produce physician assistants, physical therapists, and health professions educators, the institution began focusing on the preparation of members of the primary health care team.

In the early 1990s, with a school of pharmacy in development and a twentieth anniversary on the horizon, a plan was set in motion to re-structure the collection of health professions educational programs into a university. In August 1996 at its Annual Convocation, President Pumerantz officially declared that the institution was now Western University of Health Sciences. On that historic day, the College of Pharmacy opened its doors to the Charter Class of 68 students who are currently pursuing Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degrees. In August 2001 the new Harriet K. and Philip Pumerantz Library was opened. In 2014 the university celebrated its 37th anniversary.

The University Expands

The founding mission of the institution endures as the guiding force while the University continues to educate and prepare humanistic health care professionals.

The concrete evidence of the institution’s mission being fulfilled occurred in 1995 and 1996, when WesternU/COMP was ranked number one in the nation in two separate surveys for the percentage of its graduates choosing careers in primary care medicine.

The institution’s success is due to the emphasis placed on the education and preparation of interdisciplinary primary health care service teams. The University’s educational philosophy focuses on the preparation of highly skilled health care professionals who are also compassionate, humanistic caregivers. Curricula in all programs include courses on communication, psychosocial aspects of patient care and professional and personal development. Faculty, staff, students, administrators, alumni and supporters refer often to the “WesternU Family,” reflecting the caring, nurturing campus environment.

The Pomona campus now occupies approximately 25 acres and consists of nine colleges: the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP); the College of Allied Health Professions; the College of Pharmacy; the College of Graduate Nursing; the College of Veterinary Medicine; the College of Dental Medicine; the College of Optometry; the College of Podiatric Medicine; and the Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences.

The Harris Family Center for Disability Issues and Health Policy (CDHP) has been established to improve the capabilities of health care providers to meet the growing needs of people with disabilities. Innovations in technology and learning environments permeate the University. WesternU remains a national leader in its education of family nurse practitioners with the use of a Web-based curriculum. Web-based educational programs are also being developed in the areas of teaching excellence and licensure examination review for health professionals across the nation. College of Pharmacy classrooms are hexagonal-shaped and equipped with state-of-the-art computerization and multi-media components in the center, allowing for increased student/professor interactive learning.

With the beginning of the fall 2005 term, WesternU took the next step in bringing focus and comprehensiveness to the research effort that has been growing in the colleges over the years. Dr. Benjamin Cohen, Provost and Chief Operating Officer, said that research will help distinguish this university and be a compliment to our exceptional teaching and mission. A distinguished scientist was recruited to serve as the vice president for research and biotechnology and to found and initiate a research-based graduate program.

It is said that graduation is never an end, rather it is a beginning. As WesternU graduates become alumni each May, they carry with them into their chosen fields, a humanistic philosophy with which all instruction at WesternU is marked: persons are to be valued, treated with care and compassion and understood in their totality. This is our hallmark. As the University moves forward, it is with the commitment that the future will be as exciting as the past, that the education of tomorrow’s health care professionals is a noble calling.

To Teach, To Heal, Together

To Teach, To Heal, Together – more than any other statement, those words define the thrust of WesternU.

The University is a teaching, learning community, one in which knowledge is applied to an end—the health and well-being of our fellow citizens. President Pumerantz has assembled an outstanding group of academic leaders and faculty to carry the work of the university forward. He noted: “The value of the University degree 20 years from now is based on the University’s reputation in 20 years’ time.” WesternU alumni, wherever they serve—in private practice, in academic institutions, in the military, in major medical centers, in public health facilities—are known for the high standards to which the University is dedicated. Because of the excellence of our graduates, WesternU will continue to be known and respected as one of this nation’s leading universities dedicated to the teaching of the health sciences.