New Beginnings for D.O.s in California

Photo: Philip Pumerantz

Dr. Philip Pumerantz, Ph.D., interviewed by Dr. Michael Seffinger, DO

at Western University of Health Sciences
June 30, 2006

  • Dr. Seffinger:  Dr. Pumerantz, do you want to start with telling us when your first introduction to osteopathic medicine was?
  • Dr. Pumerantz:  I first learned about osteopathic medicine in 1974 when I was invited to become a consultant to the American Osteopathic Association in Chicago. I hadn’t known anything about DOs before that. Once I learned about the profession and its philosophy, it resonated my own philosophy of compassion and caring. The humanistic approach to relationships and it made a lot of sense. I then became the Director of Education of the American Osteopathic Association who was responsible for the accreditation of the schools and for assisting groups starting new osteopathic colleges. Now during that process, during that period of time, I learned about what was going on in California. In 1974 the California Supreme Court had declared the proposition that was passed earlier unconstitutional and therefore restored the licensing of the profession. Nevertheless the school that had existed for many years in Los Angeles, the COP&S, was out of business. But there was a group of osteopathic physicians in California at that time who really wanted to bring their profession back and they wanted to bring an osteopathic medical school back again. They had seen what I was doing in Chicago on behalf of the AOA and the profession and asked if I could come out to give them some guidance in how to start an osteopathic school; and I did and I gave them some ideas. And then they had asked if I could be more specific, if I could be more optimistic about starting a school. I told them I didn’t think that would be possible here. I didn’t believe that starting a college of osteopathic medicine in California in 1975 or 1976 would work. I wasn’t sanguine about it. But as time went by I had an opportunity to interact with a number of these people like Dr. Eby, Dr. Allen, Dr. Dilworth, and Dr. Frymann. One particularly incident comes to mind in 1976. I don’t remember the month, but early in 1976, I was attending a meeting in Brownsville, Texas and I was called out of the meeting to take a telephone call, and it was Dr. Frymann. She said to me, “Now Dr. Pumerantz, I know you said to us that we probably couldn’t start an osteopathic college in California, but would you review that for me once again,” and I said, “Okay, I will.” I was a little bit curt with her and I said to her, “Do you have a piece of paper and a pencil,” and she said, “Y-e-s.” I said, ‘Then you write down what I’m going to tell you.” So I gave her a list of all the reasons why you shouldn’t start a college of osteopathic medicine and at the end of that discussion I said, “Well are you satisfied now.” She said, “Y-e-s.” I said, “Well then, I have to go back to my meeting.” She said, “But Dr. Pumerantz, supposing you were the President, how would that feel?” And I said, “Well I’m flattered, but I still don’t believe you can do it.” So we ended our conversation. I went back to my meeting. The meeting concluded. I jumped in a cab. I went to the airport and as the plane is taking off, I’m leaning back in my seat, I’m loosening my tie and I’m thinking; I said, “You know what I just did, I just gave that woman a blueprint on how to start a college of osteopathic medicine. All she has to do is turn all of those things that I said you couldn’t do around. And if you did that you probably could have a college of osteopathic medicine. So I went home that night and I spoke with Harriet, my wife, and we talked about it and I explained what happened. And she said, “Do you think you could really do this?” And I said, “Yeah, probably.” Of course you know I was much younger in those days so I was a little bit more aggressive. So then we had some more discussions with Harriet and myself and then I had more discussions with some of the principals here in California and went back to my office in Chicago, at the AOA office. I knew at that time a number of people also didn’t know I was being considered to start the school here, but I had heard conversations in the office that went something like this, “If they put together the ten best educators in the country and sent them to California, they couldn’t start an osteopathic college.” and I heard that. I went home that night. I said to Harriet, “We’re going to California,” which we did. Then I came out here to meet with those visionaries who wanted to start this school, Drs. Allen, Dilworth, Frymann, and Eby and they had identified a shopping center for us that had been defunct for a number of years. We had a little office to start in, a little rented room with some borrowed furniture, a telephone that wasn’t working at the time, and a secretary who I had hired a couple of months before I arrived. The day after Labor Day 1977 I came onto this campus and we opened the door of that little rented room for the first time and that’s when I date the start of the college of the university, the day after Labor Day in 1977. When I got here I realized at that moment as I opened the door that this was an immense task I had ahead of me. This shopping center, this was absolutely deserted. There was nobody here. There was tumbleweed going down the center of the street and I turned around and I looked up at the mountains and that appeared to be a symbol - it’s a metaphor for what I had to face. It’s like climbing a mountain. Anyway I asked the secretary who joined me that morning to come with me, let’s go find a stationery store and she took me to a stationery store not far from the campus and we went through the store and I put into a shopping cart paper clips and papers, some pencils and all of that stuff and we brought it back and opened the office and started. I use to tell people after that that we started this college from the paper clips on up and then we started to grow. People heard that we were here. A lot of visitors came by and watched what we were doing. They were curious to see what was going to take place and little-by-little with support that was coming from a number of corners, a number of physicians, some of the hospitals, corporations; we raised the funds we needed to be able to help the college get going so it was a very interesting challenge for us. Let me talk about the Board of Directors which we called it at that time. You have to give that original Board of Directors tremendous credit and admiration for their vision and their leadership in those early days, before the college as we know it; COMP actually was constituted. Here were osteopathic physicians and lay people who were committed to develop this osteopathic college. One of the things they did, of course, was to invite me to come out as the president. There were such people as Ethan Allen, who was the first Chairman of the Board. Then there was Dr. Eby, Dick Eby was a member of that Board. Don Dilworth was a member of that Board. Frank York Lee was a member and Frank Carr, the local banker in Pomona, was a member and Saul Burnett, from New Mexico, was a member of the Board. Saul Burnat by the way became the second Chairman of the Board, and he stayed as Chairman until he passed away in... These were wonderful, wonderful people. Saul Burnat by the way at one point was the Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He was a musician by training, and then when he retired he became the Executive Director of the New Mexico Osteopathic Medical Association, a very, very fine gentleman. Frank Carr, who was a lay member of the Board, was Vice President of the United California Bank here in Pomona, another very, very fine person who committed himself to this profession. If it weren’t for these people, you know, especially the osteopathic physicians, there would be no COMP, there would be no Western University, and the growth of the profession in California would not have taken place as it did over the last 25 years. So we have to give credit to them. My role was to implement their vision; and I was privileged to be able to do that. Saul Burnat, by the way, was the Board Chairman from 1978 to 1982. He died in 1982. Also there are two other members of the Board that I should mention who were very, very important, both of these were friends of mine; people I met before I came to California. One was Warren Lawless who was the Executive Director of the Washington Osteopathic Association. He and I were friends that talked about my coming to California. He encouraged me to come out and when I did come to California, I invited him to be a member of the Board. Also Dr. Wes Burdett was a friend of mine from my Chicago days with the AOA, and when I came to California I invited him to be part of the Board as well. These are two very, very fine gentlemen. Wes Burdett practiced for a number of years as a radiologist in Ohio and then retired to Arizona. Warren Lawless became Chairman of the Board after Saul Burnett passed away. Here we are in 2006 and he is still Chairman of the Board. He has a long tenure as Chairman and has been a very productive, very bright, very inspirational Chairman all these years. So I can’t neglect to talk about those folks. Also, still on the Board, talk about staying power, Ethan Allen is still a member of that original Board. He was the first Chairman and still a member of the original Board. Since then, I think he, Warren and Wes are the only two from the early days, I believe. I should say a word about one of the challenges I faced when I came here, even before I came here is that the Board was very generous in offering me a contract. Well, one of the challenges I had is that, even though they raised a lot of money, they raised the funds before the college started, one could say that the funds were not adequate to really do all the things you needed for a start-up process including my salary. So one of the challenges I had was to raise the funds to not only to pay the operations in the first year before the students came, but I also had to raise the funds for my own salary and compensation, which is something that I was confident that I could do. As it turned out it did happen. We were able to be successful in fund raising and we attracted a number of people who were willing to support our efforts and believed in our mission. And then I should say something about my wife because as important as the founding Board was with the additional vision and leadership and drive, I don’t think any of this could really have taken place without the support of my wife because she agreed to give up a home in Chicago, give up a very nice job, and then take the risk with three children to come out to California with her husband and try to do this. You know many wives would be afraid of this, would say I don’t want to take the chance. But she believed in me and encouraged me to do that, so I always have to say that if I, you know, accorded any success, ‘it really is due in very, very large measure to her.’ As a matter of fact when the Board graciously decided to name the library I insisted that her name be placed on it first because we wouldn’t really be here if it weren’t for her support and love and dedication. One of the very encouraging things about the early development of COMP was the level of support we received. There were a number of osteopathic physicians who had then taken the MD degree who wanted to support this new effort because a lot of them felt, ‘Here’s an opportunity to have their profession come back again; to be able to hold their heads up high; this profession was viable; and that it can continue what it started to do before 1962’. So I was very fortunate to have a number of friends and supporters from this group of physicians and not only that there were several corporations, hospital corporations who rallied around the cause, accepted and believed in the mission. They believed in my philosophy and my vision, and they supported it. There was, you know, companies like National Medical Enterprises, Hyatt Medical enterprises, these two were among my first corporate gifts. There was the Arcade Foundation which was a foundation created as the result of a sale of an osteopathic hospital, the Arcade Hospital which was a major gift and there were some friends of physicians, grateful patients who stepped up, members of the Board themselves provided financial support and it started to grow become even more successful. The early faculty was an extraordinary group of people. I remember that several of the faculty members from the old COP&S came by in the first several months of 1977 after I arrived expressing an interest to teach here. I think we had a couple of them. One was an anatomist whose name I’ve forgotten, a very popular anatomist at COP&S who came to help us. Also, Cal Poly - Pomona was the source of some part-time professors. In fact, four of them were loaned to me by the president of Cal Poly to teach in the basic sciences; one was in anatomy. The anatomy professor at Cal Poly helped me get the first cadavers, so we bought nine cadavers. We put them in the cold room which we had just built in our first building, which is now the research building. This was the J. C. building at that point because it was important that we build an anatomy lab, as anatomy would be an important part of the curriculum. I had these cadavers before we had the faculty. I would tell people in those days that I had more cold bodies then warm bodies. But I remember the anatomist from Cal Poly, his name was Jack Bath. He had a red van and he would transport the cadavers over here in his red Van. It looked like something out of a Frankenstein movie. He would back up the van to the J.C. Penny store where there was a chute, take the cadavers out of his van, set them on the chute and send them down near the anatomy lab. The chute is still there behind...the story is that J. C. Penny used to put their packages from the trucks onto the chute. They would go down and be put away in the storage room. Some of the early students here in that first class remembers some of that with Jack Bath...a fascinating story, anyway, we had some very good faculty members. I should add the list of deans we had: The first dean was Dr. Bob Repel. He was followed by Dr. Jerry Bailes from West Virginia. Jerry has stayed with me for about nine years and brought about a number of important changes in the curriculum and hired a number of key faculty and administrative personnel; then Jerry Bailes retired. He was replaced by Mitch Kasovac. Mitch, even before he was a dean, came here as an assistant dean in clinical affairs. Mitch, prior to coming here as dean, was President of the AOA. He stayed for several years and brought about a number changes in the clinical educational programs. He was a good fellow. The clinical sites that we had from the very beginning were quite interesting; as-a-matter-of-fact I started a medical center on the corner of Park Avenue and Orange Grove right next to Dr. Eby’s Park Avenue Hospital. That clinic actually was the forerunner of our present medical school. Park Avenue Hospital became one of our clinical training sites. It was a wonderful little hospital – had about 50 beds. It was very popular in the community, an institution that reflected my philosophy in the osteopathic philosophy’s caring, and compassionate environment. We also had the Doctor’s Hospital in Montclair, which was one of the first clinical training sites, and Ontario Community Hospital. Pacific Hospital of Long Beach was one of the larger clinical training sites. Other hospitals were La Mirada, Coast Plaza, Rio Hondo and so forth. So we were very grateful that these institutions were able to provide us with the third and fourth year clinical training sites, and even became the sites for internship and residency training. To this day Pacific Hospital is one of our residency sites. Other training sites are Doctors Hospital in Montclair, Downey, and others we can fill in, I can’t remember at this time.
  • Dr. Seffinger:  Do you recall anything about the LA County Hospital in trying to get that to be a training site?
  • Dr. Pumerantz:  Well LA County Hospital, the leadership there in the early days of COMP was not receptive to DO training. So we did not have affiliations with LA County, or even San Bernardino County, until many years later. Once we got these, the quality of our students really presented an opportunity for the rest of the student body to follow through. The quality of the students was so good that the leadership of the hospitals wanted to continue all of that. And of course there were political challenges we had because in the early days it was still possible to keep DOs out of these community hospitals until a bill was passed through the efforts of Matt Weyuker, who was our lobbyist at that time. He also was the Executive Director of the OPSC. The bill was passed that would prohibit hospitals from excluding DOs in their, you know, practice and in training. So a number of changes took place over the years. On of the challenges I had occurred within the first two months of my coming out here. I was informed that there was a bill in the legislature called the Garamendi Bill, Senator Garamendi had written a bill that would, in effect, have eliminated osteopathic licensure again. So I went to Sacramento and had an opportunity to listen to the hearings of the Business and Professions Committee in the morning. They took a vote and the vote was to pass the bill. And if it had passed and gone through, it would have virtually stopped all of our efforts to start an osteopathic college. I had an opportunity to talk with the consultant of the committee, the Business and Professions Committee. He took me to lunch and he said, “What you have to do after lunch, because the Committee will come back again, is see if you can contact one of the members of the committee and make your point, that it would be a mistake to pass this bill.” Well I did, and I had my chance. I had a conversation with Senator Wilson on that committee and told him that it would be a shame if they passed that bill because it would eliminate a minority profession which the state needs and so forth. Anyway he went back to the hearing and he changed his vote. I beat them by one vote and the bill did not pass. And I went home that night and said to my wife, “Harriet, we can stay in California.” Let me give you my impressions of osteopathic medicine in 1974, 5, 6, and 7 when I first became associated with the profession and what it is now. In those days it was thought of by a lot of health professions people as really a second rate profession. It wasn’t considered part of main stream medicine in spite of the fact that the osteopathic profession had tremendous successes with the people. Virtually five percent of the patient population in the U.S. was made up of DOs, but because’s the lack of understanding of the profession due to poor public relations, poor communication coming out of the AOA in Chicago, and maybe even the states (it was very expensive to have marketing programs), a lot of people weren’t aware of what it was. But as time went by the osteopathic profession started to develop in this state and throughout the country - recognition on the part of the public, on the part of the legislators, students applying to these schools - that this was an outstanding career choice for somebody in health care. The quality of students, faculty, and the schools, our school and other osteopathic schools around the country had made a tremendous difference. So, today the osteopathic physician is recognized in the health care community, and among patients as being a tremendous choice for someone who is looking for a healer. Now having said that, because the profession is still a minority profession, it still suffers from a lack of recognition and awareness on a large part of the public; you could say it is one of the best kept secrets in the country even though it’s growing in credibility and recognition awareness. But I’m very happy with the idea that in the 30 years that I’ve been involved with the profession, it has made dramatic revolutionary changes in its public recognition.
  • Dr. Seffinger:  Do you recall, Dr. Pumerantz, why you decided to not try to make this a state supported school? We had discussed one of the first schools that began after COP&S closed its’ doors and became an MD grant institution. Michigan State University was a state supported school and then other schools like Texas became a state supported school, but here it’s a private institution. Do you remember the discussions at that time on why you decided or did you have a choice even?
  • Dr. Pumerantz:  Well actually I felt it was very important that we retain our independence that we could make our own decisions; we could create our own curriculum. We wouldn’t be beholden to a legislative body. We wouldn’t be beholden to a political system. And we are very fortunate that it worked out that way, so this Board of Trustees can make the decisions as to where the University is going to go - its philosophy, its core values, its mission, its purpose, all of that is something that we jealously guard. As a result of that independence we’ve been able to maintain our mission for all these years. We’ve been able to maintain our basic core values and our philosophy and that’s very important. What is also unique about it is that the University expanded into other programs and into multiple disciplines. The same philosophy that we started with with COMP is the one that now pervades the whole University. So each college rests on that, the philosophy of humanism and caring and compassion. In fact, I tell the students at the beginning of every year in all the programs, ‘when you graduate from this University you are going to have the technical and scientific competence you need to be a good healer, at the same time you are going to be offering compassion and caring to your patients because that’s the type of people we’ve recruited in the first place. So I think we have a unique roll here.
  • Dr. Seffinger:  You end up also taking students who are a little bit older perhaps, second career people. Is there an ultimate goal in the product you are looking for in you said caring, compassionate healers but also I think that you are looking for a certain type of person coming in that you are going to develop a certain type of product going out that you may feel is lacking in the medical industry in California.
  • Dr. Pumerantz:  I think one of the things that distinguishes this school from other medical schools around the country is that the nature of the student body tends to be older, tends to be more mature, second career people and so forth. These people who bring a quality, a maturity to the classrooms or the laboratory to clinical training that is really quite distinctive. And we can tell that the graduates all reflect this philosophy. I think it makes a big difference. In fact, our school is noted for the quality of the graduates. We have a disproportionate number of our graduates who are Chief Residents in programs all over the country which speaks to the quality of our program and our philosophy and the students.
  • Dr. Seffinger:  Do you feel that this school has contributed significantly to the care of patients in California? Can you see the results of your efforts in the last 30 years?
  • Dr. Pumerantz:  Yes. I think we definitely can see the impact that the graduates of this school have made over 30 years. As I mentioned before that a large number of our graduates became Chief Residents in residency programs all over the state. Our graduates are practicing in communities throughout this state and developing a tremendous reputation. And we hear this all the time from people in the communities, doctors at the hospitals, our colleagues and other universities in how much they are impressed with the quality of the graduates. You know and the graduates, the students in our program come from colleges and universities all over the west – very fine institutions and they have in those programs been the classmates with individuals who went on to other schools, MD schools and there is a great deal of respect between the two professions which I’m very delighted to see.