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ATSU-KCOM’s 2023 commencement introduces 156 new doctors of osteopathic medicine

A.T. Still University’s Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (ATSU-KCOM), the founding school of osteopathic medicine, marked the graduation of students from the class of 2023 with a commencement ceremony May 20 in Kirksville, Missouri.

ATSU-KCOM awarded 156 students with their doctor of osteopathic medicine degrees, while 10 students graduated from ATSU-KCOM’s master of science in biomedical sciences program.

Lex Towns, PhD, professor, anatomy, served as grand marshal and was awarded an honorary doctor of osteopathic education degree. Dr. Towns is retiring following 50 years of academic service to ATSU-KCOM.

Robert A. Cain, DO, FACOI, FAODME, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, delivered the commencement address, and was also awarded an honorary doctor of osteopathic medicine degree. 

Speakers included Norman Gevitz, PhD, senior vice president-academic affairs, with the greeting, ATSU-KCOM Dean Margaret Wilson, DO, ’82, with the welcome and introduction, Jonathan Cleaver, DO, FAOCD, FAAD, FASMS, ’08, with the Board of Trustees greeting, and Christine Perry, DO, ’03, president, Kirksville Osteopathic Alumni Association (KOAA), with the KOAA induction.

ATSU President Craig Phelps, DO, ’84, provided the closing remarks.

The ceremony also included the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Zulfiqar Ahmad, PhD, professor, biochemistry, and chair of ATSU-KCOM’s faculty senate, and a performance of “America the Beautiful” by ATSU’s student a capella group, the MEDleys. 

Watch the complete ATSU-KCOM 2023 commencement ceremony here.

A.T. Still University’s Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health (ATSU-MOSDOH) celebrated the class of 2023 Friday, May 19, with a commencement ceremony in Kirksville, Missouri. 

The ceremony saw 57 students receive their doctor of dental medicine degree, while two also received master in public health degrees. 

Dennis A. Mitchell, DDS, MPH, vice provost for faculty advancement at Columbia University, delivered the commencement address. Dr. Mitchell was also presented with an honorary doctor of science degree.

Speakers included Norman Gevitz, PhD, senior vice president-academic affairs, with the greeting, ATSU-MOSDOH Dean Dwight McLeod, DDS, MS, with a welcome message, Kim Perry, DO, MBA, MHCM, FACEP, FACOEP, ’91, with the Board of Trustees’ welcome, and Lisa Bosch, DMD, MPH, ’19, with the alumni induction.

ATSU President Craig Phelps, DO, ’84, provided closing remarks. 

Watch the full ceremony on ATSU’s YouTube channel here.

A.T. Still University-Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (ATSU-KCOM) student Austin Lundgren, OMS II, came to the Kirksville, Missouri, campus in large part due to its reputation and status as the founding school of osteopathic medicine. 

Since his arrival, the school has measured up to that reputation, and then some, and Lundgren has also found himself part of a community he enjoys.

“I enjoy being able to interact with students and faculty on a smaller campus. I see my classmates several times a week. I have enjoyed getting to know them and look forward to working with them throughout my career. Being able to interact and work with faculty outside of the classroom enhances the learning opportunities and gives me the ability to form additional relationships for the future,” he said.

Lundgren, originally from Monument, Colorado, graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering and a minor in business, and from Regis University with a master’s in biomedical sciences. 

When looking ahead to studying to become an osteopathic physician, Lundgren knew where he was focusing his attention.

“I enjoyed the positive reputation and rich history the school has as the first osteopathic medical school. The physicians I worked with who attended school here made me even more excited to become a member of the ATSU community,” he said.

Lundren serves as a student ambassador and is president of the Student Association of Military Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons (SAMOPS), a member of the Wilderness Medical Society, and instructor and organizer with the Disaster Awareness Response Training – Basic Disaster Life Support and Advanced Disaster Life Support.

“I joined SAMOPS to build connections with other members of the military and to help those that come after me better navigate the complexities of being in the military and medical school,” Lundgren said. “Being a member of Wilderness Medicine and the Disaster Awareness courses gave me an opportunity to expand my knowledge in areas I enjoy learning about.”

Lundgren isn’t yet sure what specialty he wants to pursue in the figure, but is confident ATSU-KCOM is providing him with the tools to succeed when he makes that choice. 

“I do know ATSU-KCOM is providing me a solid foundation to explore the different options available and is setting me up for success in residency after I graduate,” he said.

A.T. Still University-Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health (ATSU-MOSDOH) student Ambur Hill, D2, didn’t need to go far to find a place she wanted to attend for dental school.

Hill is originally from Harrisonville, Missouri, just about 200 miles from ATSU-MOSDOH. Proximity helped in her decision, as did the feeling she found when visiting the Kirksville, Missouri, campus.

“I chose ATSU-MOSDOH because it is close to home, the class size is small, and when I visited campus I truly felt like the faculty and staff cared about the well-being of the students,” she said. “Something I enjoy the most about being a student at ATSU-MOSDOH is that my class, as well as the faculty and staff, feel like a big family to me. I also love the positive attitude that can be felt on campus.”

Hill graduated from the University of Central Missouri with a bachelor’s degree in biology and minor in chemistry. In the process of checking out dental schools, Hill enjoyed her interactions with ATSU’s student ambassadors, so much so she was inspired to become one herself. 

“I decided to become a student ambassador because I had such a positive experience with the student ambassador who gave me my campus tour at the beginning of my journey,” she said. “He was able to answer all of the questions I had and put my mind at ease; he also gave me some helpful tips and tricks that I still utilize to this day. I wanted to make a positive difference in the experience of incoming professionals the same way.”

Hill is also a tutor for the Simulation Clinic, Mental Health Ambassador, vice president of the American Student Dental Association chapter, sessions chair for the American Student Dental Association District 8 Cabinet, and pre-dental chair for the American Dental Education Association. 

Outside of class, she likes to go fishing, read psychological thrillers, paint, and has recently taken up embroidery. 

“I’ve made a few sweatshirts so far and it’s a lot of fun,” she said.

Hill ultimately wants to enter general dentistry and perform mission and outreach work, all of which she said ATSU-MOSDOH is preparing her to do.

“ATSU-MOSDOH is truly preparing me for this because of how dedicated the school is to serving underserved populations,” she said. “I get vital experience because of all the Dentistry in the Community we do. I would love to continue to serve the underserved outside of school.”

A.T. Still University-Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (ATSU-KCOM) students gathered Thursday, May 4, 2023, for a ceremony marking their transition from second-year students on the Missouri campus to third-year students heading out to clinical rotation sites across the country. 

Keynote remarks were delivered by Kent Campbell, DO, ’83, who recently retired as associate dean and assistant professor. Melissa Stuart, PhD, microbiology chair, professor, provided the faculty farewell, and Jeff Davis, DO, CMD, ’00, associate dean, assistant professor, clinical affairs, gave a welcome to clinical rotations. 

Kent Campbell gestures to the students as he delivers keynote remarks.
Kent Campbell, DO, ’83, delivers keynote remarks.

ATSU-KCOM Dean Margaret Wilson, DO, ’82, presented opening and closing remarks of encouragement to the students.

“Always remember where you came from. You’re ATSU-KCOM. You’re going to be outstanding physicians, you’re compassionate, dedicated, you have all the skills and knowledge, and we wish you the best,” Dr. Wilson said.

Students also took part in a pinning ceremony marking their membership in the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Gold Humanism Honor Society, an organization which champions humanism in healthcare. 

Students work to place pins on their lapels. One student is looking down at the pin, while the other uses their hands to place the pin on their jacket.
Three students stand in a group to pin each other.

Additionally, students read the KCOM Class of 2025 Oath, which they developed together during their first week on campus and reads as follows:

As we enter the study of osteopathic medicine we will uphold the founding tenets of osteopathy and pillars of professionalism instilled in us at A.T. Still University-Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine.

We pledge to be leaders by example for colleagues and patients alike by recognizing the values for multiple perspectives and utilizing all of the resources available to us.

We commit to using our osteopathic education and experience to treat all ailments that are within our knowledge and to continuously seek answers for any that are outside our scope of expertise. 

We believe in and will advocate for access to quality, comprehensive, and inclusive care for all by being a trusted patient resource.

We commit ourselves to collaborate within the medical community while working in pursuit of improving the medical standard.

We wholeheartedly dedicate ourselves to evidence-based medicine and ethical decision making with the solemn understanding that our future patients depend on the skills and knowledge we will acquire. 

We will advocate for and uphold the dignity of all patients. We first will do no harm and second seek to actively do good in our society, remembering vulnerable populations and finding ways to right injustice.

We will actively work to empower our patients to achieve health and wellness in all aspects of their lives. We pledge to practice humility and compassion, and remind ourselves of the trust and responsibility placed in us as physicians. 

Students read their class oath.

Many different factors come into play when a student is choosing where to attend medical school. It could be something like a family connection, or a location, or a conversation with a student ambassador. 

For Erin Jo Ruden, OMS II, her choice of A.T. Still University’s Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (ATSU-KCOM) came down to two simple matters: She wanted to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine, and ATSU-KCOM would do the best job preparing her for that future.

“I chose ATSU-KCOM based on the curriculum schedule and exam style,” Ruden said. “I think the school does a great job building test-taking stamina, which will help when I sit for my board exams.”

Ruden, from Fort Dodge, Iowa, has a bachelor’s of science in biology with a minor in psychology, and a master of science in biomedical sciences from Iowa State University. In ATSU-KCOM, she found a medical school which aligns with the type of physician she wants to become.

“Medical mission is something that has always spoken to me,” she said. “ATSU-KCOM is helping me attain that goal by providing me not only medical education, but a whole person approach to health. This approach will help me connect with patients across the world and provide a comprehensive approach to wellness.”

Ruden is vice president of Emergency Medicine Club, secretary of American Medical Association, and a member of Wilderness Medicine, Global Health Club, and Lifestyle Medicine Club. 

“I’ve always had an interest in emergency medicine. On campus, the Emergency Medicine Club organizes numerous labs and lectures that are very relevant to practicing medicine in an emergency department, such as placing chest tubes, intubations, FAST exams, and suture labs,” Ruden said. “They also have a big community presence by maintaining roughly 100 AEDs in the community and providing AED education to different northeast Missouri businesses and organizations.”

She’s also a student ambassador, a position she was inspired to take after her own experiences as a pre-medical student.

“I remember talking to the student ambassadors during my interview day and thinking how helpful they were. They eased my worries about interviews and created a welcoming space. I aspire to be that person for interviewing and prospective students,” Ruden said.

In northeast Missouri, Ruden has found a home away from home. The region’s opportunities for outdoor activities match her interests, and her fellow students have bonded and become a family.

“Running and camping are my two favorite ways to get outside. Missouri has offered a lot of opportunities to explore the outdoors,” she said. “I have a great group of friends who get together to cook at least once a week. These are friendships I know will last a lifetime.”

When Ruth Wilkinson, D2, finishes her dental education with the class of 2025, her goal is to serve in a federally qualified health center.

In A.T. Still University’s Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health (ATSU-MOSDOH), Wilkinson has found the perfect place to help her achieve that goal.

“ATSU stresses the importance of serving public health in its mission statement. ATSU-MOSDOH has provided me with multiple opportunities to go into the community and help serve vulnerable populations, which has only solidified that my decision to go into public health is the right one,” she said.

Wilkinson is from Overland Park, Kansas, and has an undergraduate degree in biology with minors in chemistry, physical science, and public health. 

ATSU-MOSDOH made her feel welcome and like a member of the community when she interviewed and toured, and those feelings have only grown stronger during her time on the Kirksville, Missouri, campus.

“I enjoy feeling a part of the ATSU family,” she said. “My class is super close and I know if I am needing assistance with anything, or just someone to hang out with, I have people to support me.”

A unique factor in ATSU-MOSDOH’s favor, Wilkinson said, is the four-year program being split between two locations. Students spend their first two years in Kirksville, working in the simulation lab, and then relocate to St. Louis and the St. Louis Dental Center, a dental clinic operated in partnership between ATSU-MOSDOH and Affinia Healthcare

“The split campus was something different than other schools and has allowed me to experience dental school in both a small town and a large city. I have been provided with numerous experiences to work with patients, which helps me learn how to better operate with my patients when I get to St. Louis,” she said.

Wilkinson serves as a member of Delta Sigma Delta and a student ambassador, organizations which allow her to grow as a team member and gain leadership experiences. 

“Part of dentistry is being a team player, and I have learned how to become a more valuable team player,” she said. “I was a student ambassador in undergrad and I loved being able to share my experiences with prospective students. I enjoy getting to meet new people and serving as a resource for them. I get emails from students who have toured, announcing their acceptance to ATSU-MOSDOH, and it makes me feel proud to have been part of their journey to dental school.”

First impressions aren’t the only thing, but in the case of A.T. Still University-Arizona School of Health Sciences’ (ATSU-ASHS) Physician Assistant (PA) program student Brielle Hannah Goldberg, PA, ’24, they were a big part of why she decided to relocate across the country for her graduate health sciences education. 

“During the interview, I was able to have multiple one-on-one conversations with several of the faculty members, which allowed me to gain valuable insight into what my relationship could be like with my professors. All of them were incredibly friendly, and even in the short conversations I had with them I could tell they were all super passionate about what they do as clinicians and as teachers,” she said. 

“In addition, when I toured the campus and met some of the first-year PA students, I instantly felt welcomed and could see myself fitting right in and making so many new friends without even knowing anyone in the area. Lastly, the mission statement involving whole person healthcare and serving underserved populations really resonated with me, because I felt I could make a big difference within the community.”

Originally from Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, Goldberg attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and earned a bachelor’s degree in athletic training. She decided upon a future career as a physician assistant, and specifically would like to seek something in emergency care or cardiology. 

“I am very passionate about both of these fields and feel that I can do the most I can to help my community through these areas,” Goldberg said. “ATSU is not only providing me with all the academic information I need to know in these fields, but also grants me amazing opportunities to shadow such impressive clinicians. For example, I was able to shadow Dr. Jeffrey Butler at Banner Boswell Medical Center in the emergency department during his overnight shift, which gave me insight into a field I am interested in pursuing. Also, our faculty members still practice as clinicians, so they are able to discuss their personal experiences in a variety of fields and what stood out to them the most.”

When she began her coursework in Mesa, Arizona, Goldberg remembered how influential student ambassadors were when she made her graduate school decision. Given her passion for the program, school, and faculty, becoming a student ambassador herself was a natural fit. 

Goldberg also loves exploring the Mesa area, seeking new adventures and experiences by hiking the nearby mountains, taking road trips with friends, and sampling the different culinary options available. 

All of it blends together for a comprehensive student experience, one Goldberg is enjoying every moment of, and with a true sense of purpose.

“One of my favorite things about being an ATSU student is how much we truly follow through with our mission statement to help underserved populations. For example, we were able to volunteer as medical triage personnel during Mission of Mercy, where people could get free dentistry care,” she said. “Also, I enjoy the sense of community that is instilled within our school. For example, we have events such as Founder’s Day where we are able to gather on the lawn to play games, eat and hang out with friends and faculty.”

In preparing to apply to Physician Assistant (PA) programs, Francisco Torres Jr. enrolled in a post-baccalaureate program to make himself a more competitive applicant. It was there Torres Jr. learned about cultural humility, the process of recognizing one’s own biases and willingness to learn about the different and complex identities people have. 

“This process is a life-long commitment to continual improvement of one’s cultural humility,” Torres Jr., PA, ’24, said. “The A.T. Still University-College for Healthy Communities Central Coast Physician Assistant (ATSU-CHC CCPA) program spoke about educating culturally humble PAs, and that aligned with my goal of becoming a lifelong learner. This applies not only to my medical knowledge, but for my development as a person.”

Originally from San Leandro, California, Torres Jr. graduated from University of California-Davis with a degree in biological sciences and emphasis in neurology, physiology, and behavior. During those undergraduate years he attended various PA school informational sessions, and his experiences with those students inspired him to become a student ambassador with the CCPA program.

“What really stood out to me was how passionate the students spoke about their dedication for medicine and the PA profession,” Torres Jr. said. “They served as inspiration for me to continue on my path to PA school, especially during times of self-doubt. Being a student ambassador now, I like that I can interact with prospective students and provide them with information that could be beneficial for them on their own journey to PA school. The ability to pay it forward to help and potentially inspire these prospective students is why I choose to be a student ambassador.”

Torres Jr. has enjoyed his experience on ATSU’s California campus, specifically that time with his fellow students. 

“I enjoy being around students who have different work and volunteer experiences, and hearing about those experiences,” he said. “My background is in emergency medicine, so I also enjoy hearing from someone else’s perspective. I’m always curious about hearing other people’s experience/background, whether it be in dermatology, orthopedics, surgery, or other specialties.”

When he isn’t studying toward his future career, Torres Jr. unwinds in the kitchen, cooking and learning how to cook new recipes.

“I could spend all day looking up recipes online and watching YouTube videos on how to cook different dishes,” he said. “I enjoy making soups and stews the most, whether it’s a Columbia, Korean, or Caribbean recipe. 

“I also enjoy hiking and exploring new places. I don’t mind a long drive if it means I can explore what’s around me.”

As for his future, Torres Jr. said one of his goals is to provide services to a free clinic.

“I volunteered as a Spanish translator at a free clinic that mostly saw Spanish-speaking patients,” he said. “I was delighted to see there are clinics, providers, and other staff who dedicated their time to providing resources for those who wouldn’t have it otherwise. I want to be able to contribute and aid in that cause as a future provider. 

“ATSU has given me the knowledge to see that physical health is only part of the picture when it comes to treating a patient. Understanding there might be financial, social, or personal barriers that could affect a patient’s overall care or resources that are available to them is important to recognize. ATSU has, and is continuing, to teach me how to address all these issues appropriately for the betterment of the patient.”

A.T. Still University-Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine’s (ATSU-KCOM) Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA) chapter put on its annual Still Shave for a Cure event to benefit the St. Baldrick’s Foundation April 4, 2023, in the Centennial Commons.

“St. Baldrick’s is a national charity foundation dedicated to curing childhood cancer, so we’re fundraising to help provide research dollars to them,” Austin Raj Watson, OMS I and president of SOMA, said.

This year, three people shaved their heads, one person received a haircut, and another got several inches cut off of their hair, which was saved in a bag for donation.

Watson was one of the people who had their heads shaved. He said he loved participating in the event, as well as planning the event.

The 2023 Still Shave for a Cure raised $1,100 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.