Dr. Steve Beerman, of Nanaimo, shows off his Dr. David Bachop Gold Medal, awarded for distinguished medical service. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)

Vancouver Island doctor recognized for residency program, global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman recognized by Doctors of B.C. as well as Royal Life Saving Society in the U.K.

A Nanaimo doctor is being lauded by organizations here and across the pond for his medical work and advocacy for drowning prevention.

Dr. Steve Beerman, who retired from Anchor Family Medicine centre in March, has been awarded the Dr. David M. Bachop Gold Medal for Distinguished Medical Service from Doctors of B.C., for his contributions to organized medicine and community service. He is also the recipient of the King Edward VII Cup from the Royal Life Saving Society, recognizing outstanding contribution to life-saving.

Beerman helped to establish the UBC family practice residency program in Nanaimo, which serves as an apprenticeship for new doctors. A family doctor in Nanaimo for 34 years, Beerman said he helped set up the residency program “from scratch” in 2007. The Nanaimo site was established as the community was struggling to recruit and maintain family physicians. The program helps to place 16 resident doctors in Nanaimo for two years, with eight graduating each year.

“These are people who have finished medical school and they’re doing two years of family practice training in Nanaimo, and then they get licensed to be family physicians … there’s exams they have to write during that period of time and they have experiential learning opportunities, nearly exclusively based in Nanaimo,” said Beerman. “They work both in the hospital and the community setting and about 50 per cent of them end up staying here.”

There is a lack of family doctors in Nanaimo despite the residency program, and Beerman said the issue is complex. There isn’t actually a lack of family doctors, but a lack of family doctors “doing full-spectrum, community-based, family medicine,” he said.

“There’s many family doctors in Nanaimo who are not doing that, who are doing hospital-based medicine or a sub-specialized form of family medicine in the emergency department or in the cancer clinic…” Beerman said. “Where we’ve had difficulty is getting people to do community office-based family medicine, which is what the community needs most of, which is why there are some 20,000 people in Nanaimo who don’t have a family doctor at the moment. That’s been the difficulty and the reason probably is that it’s very challenging work.”

Better collaboration between government funding mechanisms and community need is what is required to remedy the situation, he suggested.

A passion for Beerman, a former lifeguard, is life-saving. His work includes serving as principal investigator of the Bangladesh Anchal and SwimSafe child drowning prevention research study. He has also served as an advisor to the World Health Organization’s global report on drowning and for the United Nations. He said the UN general assembly is expected to pass, this coming week, a resolution on drowning prevention which will provide guidance to 194 countries.

“That’s one of the many sentinel events that I’ve been working towards for a long time,” said Beerman.

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