Sons follow their dads' medical footsteps
Published: Sunday, June 16, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 7:34 p.m.
As a child, Dr. Jamie Berk remembers waking up in the middle of the night and seeing his father, Marvin, a radiologist, in his room looking on a computer monitor at patients' CT scan results that had come through the phone line.
Coincidentally, Jamie Berk, the youngest of four boys, would be the only son to follow his father into medicine.
Today Marvin and Jamie greet each other at Jamie Berk's office at the Orthopaedic Institute in Alachua with a gregarious father-son hug.
They also can talk shop with the ease of colleagues — although Jamie practices primary care orthopedics and treats mostly athletes for sports injuries, and his father spent his career taking and interpreting radiological scans.
The Berks are emblematic of a storied tradition of the sons of physicians also becoming physicians. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, followed his father, Heraclides, into medicine, and Hippocrates' two sons and son-in-law were his students.
“The father has to walk a narrow road of encouraging a different pathway and encouraging (medicine),” said Marvin Berk, who is now retired from practicing at St. Vincent's Medical Center in Jacksonville. He lives with his wife, Helen, at Oak Hammock, a retirement community in Gainesville.
“I wanted him to understand that it was hard work, and that it has got to be something that you really want to do; otherwise it won't come,” Marvin Berk said. “But it's very gratifying.”
For Jamie Berk, the path to medicine came naturally: He was good at science in school and worked as a hospital orderly in high school. He attended Vanderbilt and the University of Florida College of Medicine and then worked with an orthopedic surgeon of the Charlotte Hornets basketball team and the Carolina Panthers football team.
“I did try to influence him minimally towards radiology,” Marvin Berk said. “But he wanted more patient contact.”
Many of his son's patients are athletes (Jamie Berk is also the team physician for the Lake Butler football team), and his exam rooms are organized thematically by sports, resembling mini halls of fame, with antique tennis rackets and a well-worn umpire's vest hanging on the walls.
Jamie Berk said that although he went into a different branch of medicine, his dad taught him a lot.
“My dad was a hard worker. I always remembered that he was tireless,” Jamie Berk said. “On top of that, he was able to be a wonderful father.”
Jamie Berk also said he didn't feel pressured to go into medicine. Two of his brothers are scientists, and one owns a construction company.
“He (dad) just wanted us to be happy,” Jamie Berk said, adding, “I think he's happy I did (medicine).”
The art of teaching
Dr. Guy Benrubi laughs modestly when compared to the Hippocratic tradition of passing on the medical trade from fathers to sons that began in his country of origin.
Yet his own lineage mirrors it: His father, an optician, brought the family from Greece to New York City when he was 9 years old, encouraging him to become an ophthalmologist so they could create “an optical empire,” Benrubi recalled.
After passing through phases of wanting to be a policeman, firefighter and soldier, Benrubi got serious about being a doctor — and liked OB-GYN.
Now Benrubi chairs the OB-GYN department at the UF College of Medicine in Jacksonville, where among his students he counts his only son, Daniel.
“He took me to the hospital when he made his rounds when I was just 3 years old,” said Daniel Benrubi, now 28.
“He would bring me in, and I would sit at the nurse's station coloring and hanging around. Sometimes he'd let me talk to his patients, and they'd give me candy. From an early age, this made me feel comfortable in a hospital setting,” the younger Benrubi said.
Like Jamie Berk, Daniel Benrubi showed aptitude for science in school. He majored in biomedical engineering at Columbia University, thinking that he would become a vascular surgeon.
“I always felt that growing up that I was really like my dad, so when I got to medical school it was time to be my own person,” said Daniel Benrubi, who went to UF's medical school.
“But when I actually did the rotations, I didn't find (surgery) as appealing as delivering babies.”
Daniel Benrubi decided to specialize in OB-GYN and is now going into his second year of residency. He has performed C-sections with his father and said that he is a “direct line” to his father from other residents in airing their concerns.
“I think having my son among the class of medical students has made me more attuned to their needs. It's enhanced my ability to teach medical students,” Guy Benrubi said.
That's important to the elder Benrubi, since he considers teaching just as much of a calling as medicine.
“I can't think of anything more honorable to do with my life: teach people how to care for women,” Guy Benrubi said.
“I have mentored over 200 residents in our medical school and 60 percent of all gynecologists in Jacksonville.”
Guy Benrubi tells his students the same thing he says to his son: “Wouldn't it be nice to say ‘I did something that was of value to human beings.' ”
Daniel Benrubi also has that sensibility. When asked what he likes best about practicing OB-GYN, “patient care” comes quickly. “You are with mothers when they deliver their babies, which is one of the most significant moments of their lives … and cancer patients during surgery, which is probably one of the most difficult moments of their lives,” Daniel Benrubi said.
“In OB-GYN, you are involved with the most significant moments of patients' lives.”
John Beckum has a stack of Polaroid-like photos in his office in the Millhopper area that are portraits of the detailed insides of the eye, something that most of us will never see.
But Beckum, who just turned 80, grew up in an optical world: His father, Lindsey, was an optician from Wrens, Ga., who got his start in the business peddling ready-made eyeglasses from farmhouse to farmhouse.
His father went to school to become an optician, a person who fills eyeglass prescriptions much like a pharmacist fills medications, John Beckum explained, adding that his father also was appointed by Gov. Fuller Warren to the Florida Board of Dispensing Opticians created by the Florida Legislature in 1949, shortly after moving his family to Gainesville.
Beckum worked in his father's optical dispensary on University Avenue downtown and then did pre-med studies at UF, followed by the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. Becoming an optometrist, he was qualified not only to fit eyeglasses and contact lenses but diagnose and treat some eye conditions.
Beckum opened his own practice in Gainesville, and for a while, he and his father shared patients. “He'd refer me patients, and I'd send them back to him for glasses,” Beckum said.
“I learned to be very precise in what I was doing,” Beckum said of working with his father, adding, “I also learned to hunt and fish.”
Beckum said he has no intention of retiring anytime soon and said he enjoys helping people — from those with eye diseases to those who need to pick out frames.
In his office is a reprint of the Norman Rockwell painting “Eye Doctor” of the child with a scrunched-up face — obviously displeased to be at the eye doctor.
“That kind of says it all,” Beckum said about how things used to be when he worked in his father's dispensary.
“Kids are not so much that way today,” he said. “They come in and want glasses.”
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or email@example.com.