Fairbanks pediatrician Dr. Marvin Bergeson to retire after more than 35 years with Tanana Valley Clinic

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) “We often didn’t have time to sleep in the beds,” Dr. Marvin Bergeson says, referring to the beds in the on call room back in his early days at the Tanana Valley Clinic (TVC). “But they’re hospital beds, so they’re not great,” he says with a grin.

After more than 35 years with Tanana Valley Clinic, Dr. Marvin Bergeson is set to retire later this year. (Ramzi Abou Ghalioum/KTVF)

After more than 35 years with TVC, Dr. Bergeson is set to retire later this year. “The Army brought me to Fairbanks in 1980,” he recalls. During this time, he began pulling part-time Saturday shifts at TVC in family practice. A fellow pediatrician urged Bergeson to move to pediatrics. “I’ve been here since,” Bergeson says.

At that time in Fairbanks, however, it wasn’t that cut and dry. Although Bergeson was a board-certified pediatrician, he was required to put his medical knowledge to use in a variety of ways. “Back then, we were a jack of all trades. So when I was in the Army, I had to do ER rotations. As did the psychiatrist and the OB,” he says.

There were other challenges related to lack of infrastructure, resources, remoteness “When I had sick babies in the Army, I had a 32 week preemie [sic] on a ventilator [and] I would have to call Wright Patterson [Air Force Base] in Ohio,” Bergeson recalls. The base would send a cargo plane and the baby would have to be transported this way. “You could be a day or two waiting for that plane to show up, taking care of a sick baby.”

Throughout his time at TVC, Bergeson has had to treat some unfortunate cases. “The drug affected kids from moms using drugs during pregnancy, alcohol during pregnancy,” Dr. Bergeson says, are some of the most common examples. “Those kids have oppositional defiant disorder, hyperactivity, [and] impulse control problems,” Bergeson explains.

These become problems that schools have to deal with, which result in doctors medicating the children to ameliorate this behavior. “Behavioral health psychology treatments haven’t been very successful in the past for those kids,” Bergeson continues. “Intensive behavioral therapy is very successful, but it’s very expensive and very hands on and hard to get into.”

“It can be frustrating,” Bergeson says. However, there aren’t enough resources to go around to deal with all of these cases, of which Bergeson says there is a constant stream.

He pulls on other threads of memory. “[Back] then, if I had a baby on a ventilator, I had to stay in the hospital all night. I couldn’t go home and see my family. And then I was working the clinic the next day. So you’re pretty tired and exhausted a lot of the time. It was tough on the family,” Dr. Bergeson says, candidly.

He adds that in medicine today, the multi-payer insurance system currently in place at most medical facilities forces doctors to focus on filling out paperwork for appropriately billing insurance companies rather than devote their full attention to their patient. Healthcare providers not accepting Medicaid and Medicare present additional obstacles to doctors treating their patient. “I think the system is clearly broken,” Dr. Bergeson says. He sees a single payer system as a means of solving this problem.

Now, Dr. Bergeson is looking forward to hanging up his stethoscope. After retiring, he is planning a trip across Europe with his children. However, he plans on sticking around Fairbanks.

Much like the clinic in which Bergeson operated for most of his career, his roots in this community go deep.

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