Oregon's first new medical school in 100 years opens in Lebanon

Oregon's first new medical school in 100 years opens in Lebanon »Play Video

LEBANON, Ore. - Saturday was a day full of firsts for new medical student Julien Diegel.

Diegel -- who lives in Eugene -- has always wanted to go to medical school.

"My dream was to practice and learn medicine, go to medical school somewhere close to home," he said, "and by far this is the closest I could ever really be to home."

He joins 107 other students -- more than 60 percent of whom are from the Pacific Northwest -- making up the founding class of Western University of Health Sciences in Lebanon.

The school is part of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific based in Pomona, California.

"This represents the opening of the first new medical school in over a century in Oregon," said Dean Paula Crone.

And Crone said it couldn't come at a better time, considering the shortage of physicians in the Northwest, especially in rural areas.

"From the perspective of health, it benefits the city of Lebanon and the future communities across the Northwest where our students will ultimately become physicians," she said. "We already have students rotating through clinic screenings, hospital settings throughout the state."

Right now, only 17 percent of physicians who practice in Oregon went to medical school in Oregon. School administrators say they hope to change that statistic.

"Starting in a small community, a small town, and training our students from this locations helps us set that tone," said Crone.

The new school is already changing the landscape of Lebanon, too; new apartments and houses are being built for the students, and some new businesses have popped up in the area.

"It has been a game-changer for the area," said associate professor Jay Danto. "You see that all sorts of things start to spread out."

Saturday was a time to celebrate all that's come from this new school and what lies ahead, with a convocation ceremony for the students and faculty.

Diegel said he can't want to get started.

"This is my dream," he said.