National Physicians’ Day 2020 – Dr. Jeff Beselt

To pay tribute to the many dedicated physicians practicing at Island Health and in honour of National Physicians’ Day, we are profiling some of the doctors leading innovations and delivering high quality service to show the human behind the profession.

Dr. Jeff Beselt is an emergency physician in Campbell River who also practices family medicine in Kwadacha and Tsay Keh Dene First Nations communities in northern B.C.

  • Why did you chose medicine and your speciality/field?

I really enjoy challenging environments and a different adventure each day. Emergency medicine and rural and remote care provide both. The emergency department provides me with different challenges and keeps my skills sharp for practicing in remote areas where there’s little support. In remote settings, I get to work as a part of the care team as we follow and support patients and families through the entire continuum of life, from birth to death. I really enjoy getting to know people well, over many years. After completing my medical degree at the University of Alberta, I did my residency in Prince George and found that I loved working in rural and remote care First Nations communities. I’ve been practicing for the past 15 years.

  • What is most meaningful to you about your work in medicine?

Hearing people’s stories is very meaningful. I am amazed at what people will share with you when you take the time to listen. People seeking health care can be vulnerable and listening to their stories changes the way care is delivered. Hearing people’s stories also changes you.

  • Who or what do you turn to for inspiration?

In most remote First Nations communities across Canada, there is a community health representative. This person is the often the sole frontline worker for their community – they do everything, from  visiting sick people at home, to organising the clinic visits and long term medications, as well as  being the first responder. Although they receive very little training, they perform extraordinary care for all community members, including their family. They really do so much with so little and I think about them for inspiration. Janet, Joyce, Athena, Seraphine, Ruby, Peggy- you are my heroes!

  • Where do you go, or what do you do, to recharge your batteries?

I love to run with my wife, Sarah. We have six kids, as well as a small farm with sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens. Playing Paw Patrol with our 4 year old is a current favourite. That’s what I do to recharge.

  • What is the last book you enjoyed?

Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed. It’s about how the key to success is reflecting on failure. By using examples from the evolution of aviation accidents the book shows how it’s OK to not get it right on the first try and how to learn from your mistakes.  I’ve found that to be the case on my journey in medicine. I didn’t get everything right on my first try. This includes leadership, remote medicine and more.

  • What core value have you most relied on during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

The pandemic has been hard. I haven’t been able to travel to the villages to see patients. I’ve been working with Island Health and the First Nations Health Authority but it hasn’t been easy to support communities to respond to COVID. The core values I’ve relied on have been courage and compassion. Right now, supporting people requires different ways of doing things. First, you have to listen, and then have the courage to act.

  • What is a change you’ve seen to the health system over the last few months that you are eager to see sustained?

People in remote areas often don’t have phones or cell service, but since the pandemic, home telehealth has been really fun. I find it more patient-centered to “meet” people where they live. We’re trying to support people accessing care from home, instead of seeing the nurses in person in the nursing station. We’re trying to support people where they are and it’s been a profound change. I had a video appointment with a young mom recently and although it’s not ideal, she may have not had that appointment without telehealth. She was sitting on her porch on her tablet, explaining how self-isolation has impacted her mental health.  This is just one example of the system being nimble and more patient centric which I hope continues.

  • What do you wish more people knew about practicing medicine?

How much of an honour it really is to visit with our patients and learn from them. The more I practice medicine the more I realize how special it is. People may not share with anyone else what they tell their doctor and with this trust, there is great responsibility. It’s hard to do a good job because you have such a high expectation of yourself and you don’t want to let your patients down. At the end of the day, medicine is just two people sitting in a room talking. It’s not pressure, but the magnitude of the responsibility is significant.

  • What is your hope for the future of health care in Canada?

The pandemic has shown an unexpected pace of change in the health system, some good, some bad. I see a willingness to reflect on the way we do things as good. What if we did a drastic review of our health care system around patient-centered care or cultural safety? The pandemic has enabled us to make changes and this gives me hope that our 150-year-old system is flexible.