When Taj Taher and his family moved to Pendleton, they made front page news. Taher's father took a position as an internal medical physician. Now Taj hopes to follow in his footsteps.

When Taj Taher and his family moved to Pendleton, they made front page news. Taher’s father took a position as an internal medical physician. Now Taj hopes to follow in his footsteps.

Kristian Foden-Vencil

The incoming class of aspiring new Oregon Health & Science University doctors held a “white coat” ceremony in Portland Friday.

Students lined up to have their white coats put on as they walked across a stage. Each one beat 40 other applicants to win a place in the class.

It’s also a diverse group. More than half are women.

Eighty-five percent are Oregonians.

And 38 percent report a racial background other than Caucasian.

Taj Taher grew up in Pendleton the son of immigrants. “I’m actually just really excited to get started … I’ve been basically dreaming about being a doctor since I was a kid,” he said. 

“We were the only Bangladeshi and Muslim people in town, and at first, it was a huge cultural shock,” he said. “But within a year, we were wearing rodeo gear, and everyone was very open and friendly to us.”

38 percent of new medical students at OHSU report a racial background other than caucasian.

38 percent of new medical students at OHSU report a racial background other than caucasian.

Kristian Foden-Vencil

Taher decided to become a doctor after overcoming obesity.

In exchange for the state picking up his $200,000 medical school bill, Taher promises to spend at least five years practicing in a rural area after he graduates.

More than 20 percent of students at OHSU already come from a rural background.

Another student, 24-year-old Miriam Hernandez-Zepeda, grew up in the coastal town of Brookings. 

She first thought about a career in health care during high school, after attending OHSU’s Med Stars camp. “I remember my first patient emergency, the insanity of it, and the way the doctors worked together to bring back a life,” she said.

The highest areas of need for doctors in rural Oregon include Yoncalla, Cascade Locks, Oakridge and Cottage Grove.