Dr. Bert McBride
Dr. Bert McBride

The doctor is out

Dr. Bert McBride is hanging up his stethoscope, this time for good.

The long-serving physician has been with Student Health Services since 1973 and will retire from his position there in March. He technically took early retirement in 1997, but decided to stay on part-time in the clinic. "Most of that part-time was close to full-time," he said with a chuckle. "I've enjoyed working with young people, and it's been rewarding to help students."

A passion for helping students achieve their broader education goals, as well as mediating their medical maladies, is what kept him on campus for 42 years.

"Student Health isn't just about helping the person's stomach get better, or controlling their acne," he said. "It's also about enabling them to carry on with their training and education."

McBride graduated from the College of Medicine in 1963, and soon moved into a family medicine practice in Outlook. He returned to Saskatoon in 1972 as a research associate in the College of Medicine before moving into Student Health in 1973.

In his time working on campus, he has seen a number of changes in terms of illnesses and the social environment.

"When I started at Student Health, it was not uncommon for a doctor to see 40 or 50 or more patients a day," he said, noting that acute infectious illnesses such as colds and coughs were much more prevalent then than they are today. "We had flu epidemics, and there weren't big immunization programs so whenever something like that came through the community, we were run off our feet."

McBride said that mental-health services and supports have increased in demand over the years, adding that the catalyst that started Student Health was the need for psychiatry services on campus.

"I think there's less stigma attached to things like mental illness," he said. "People are more open about coming for help than they used to be."

Similarly, the rise of learning disabilities, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), have changed the medical landscape.

"I've seen capable students who got to the point that they couldn't complete their program," he said, describing a former patient who was about to be kicked out of his graduate program. By diagnosing him with ADHD and providing treatment options, McBride was able to help the student get back on track and finish his PhD.

"To me, that's a pretty significant thing, because you sort of rescue somebody's career. It's fulfilling to see somebody, especially somebody who's had some health issues, be successful."

The physical environment has changed, too. When it was located in Saskatchewan Hall, Student Health looked more like a cozy apartment than a doctor's office, complete with cushions for students to sit on and thick carpeting in almost every room. While perhaps more warm and welcoming, it was not the most hygienic, said the doctor. "We would never think of doing that now. This space (in Place Riel) is much more sterile and clinical."

McBride greatly enjoys the social aspect of meeting with patients, both to learn about their medical history and chat informally about their studies. "I have always found it interesting talking to students about their careers and what their research is."

And his connection with patients spans multiple generations. He has some patients he saw decades ago as children, when their parents were attending university, as well as patients he delivered in Outlook. They remember him and vice versa. "I saw them when they were six years old and now they're 26."

McBride also has a keen interest in the health and wellbeing of graduate students, particularly international students who he estimates make up half of his practice at Student Health.

"They bring a different set of concerns," he said, explaining that many are not prepared for the culture shock they experience, both physically and socially, when they arrive in Canada. "They have left their home country. A lot of them have left their families behind so there's the emotional stress that they need help with."

Additionally, he has treated a number of conditions in international students including leprosy, malaria and tuberculosis that are not typically seen in Canadian patients.

"It's been a challenge to learn the effect of cultural changes on health."

While challenging, McBride finds his work with international students immensely fulfilling, and he has made personal connections with the international community in Saskatoon as well. He lends his time to a program that assesses the skills of international medical graduates looking to gain licensure in family medicine in Saskatchewan, and volunteers with a community ESL program helping newcomers with their English language skills. He is looking forward to strengthening these mentoring relationships when he retires.

But even when retired from Student Health, McBride will remain on campus teaching in the College of Medicine. "A lot of what I enjoy about medicine is teaching," he said. His firstand second-year classes focus on developing professional clinical skills, such as interviewing and communicating with patients, a passion and central focus of his career for more than four decades.

Lending an empathetic ear to his patients has made all the difference in his practice, he said, and in keeping students healthy, engaged citizens.

"Students need to know that the staff at Student Health understand their needs. If anything dictates how well Student Health functions, it's that."

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