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Australian-born doctor’s one year turns into 38+
Dr. Ian Becke, a 13-year resident of Bremerton and hospitalist for Group Health Cooperative, has seen medicine from many different perspectives in his lifetime.
Originally from Australia, Becke graduated from medical school in 1971 and came to America two years later for “one year” of additional training. After six years of New Jersey’s winter weather, he and his wife decided to move to the much warmer, drier climate of Arizona and start a private practice.
“We were looking to move out west because we didn’t really want to live in Jersey,” Becke said. “The winter weather is pretty intense. I wanted to get out of that environment to a little simpler lifestyle, so we moved to central Arizona.”
Having lived and worked there for 23 years, Becke said he felt like a change was in order. He found an advertisement in a medical journal for an open position with Group Health in Washington and decided to come check it out.
“It was one of those February weekends when the sun was shining,” Becke said. “I thought, ‘It’s not that bad. It doesn’t rain that much.’ But on the way to the airport, it started to rain again.”
With a grown child in school at the University of Washington, the Beckes had an added incentive to take the job and make the transition to Bremerton. In addition, Becke said, the idea of letting someone else, like Group Health, take care of the administrative side of the medical business while he focused on practicing medicine was very appealing.
Becke spends his time working at Harrison Medical Center giving care to Group Health patients who have been admitted to the hospital for one reason or another. The organization also has a small outpatient clinic, but Becke said 50 percent of his job is done at Harrison.
“It’s a fairly new specialty which has been going on for about 15 years,” he said. “And we were one of the first groups to really do it full-time. It seems to work pretty well. They like it and we’re happy with it and it’s an efficient way to take care of people.”
Becke and his wife took a sabbatical in Australia during the 2006-07 winter months. He worked in two separate locations during his sabbatical.
“I was able to really enjoy the more relaxed lifestyle that is seen in that part of the world,” he said. “We also spent a four-week period volunteering at a local hospital in St. Lucia in the Caribbean and saw how really bad a system can be when there is no money to fund proper care.”
The hospital in St. Lucia where he worked was an old World War II American military hospital, now owned by the Caribbean government, and only offered rudimentary services. St. Lucia is very impoverished and survives solely on tourism for income, Becke said.
“If a patient had kidney failure, they didn’t get dialysis, they went home and died,” he added. “If you had money you could get service...you could fly to somewhere else.”
Many of the wealthier patients Becke knew in St. Lucia would actually fly to New York or Miami to get health care. Some of the British residents would even fly to London to get the services not available to them on the island.
Becke also traveled with Group Health to Vietnam about four years ago. While there, he participated in clinic visits and took part in educational programs. He said health care there was not much better than in St. Lucia, although strides are being made.
As for the future, Becke is planning to make a trip to Tanzania, Africa with a group of Harrison staffers. He said he has been there before on vacation, even spending time climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, but he is looking forward to making the trip again in a medical capacity.
Although Becke has spent a lot of time traveling the world helping people, and has seen the problems other areas experience, he still feels there are things to be done here as well.
“The most challenging part of this work is trying to get people to take responsibility for their own health and to try to live healthier lives, in order to enjoy retirement and their families when they are still relatively young,” he said. “Obesity and lack of exercise are huge problems in our country and not likely to improve any time soon.”