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St. Michael’s doctor gets call to the Hall

Toronto, October 3, 2017

By Geoff Koehler

Dr. Philip Berger
Dr. Philip Berger

Dr. Bryce Taylor, Chair of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame announced today that Dr. Philip Berger of St. Michael’s Hospital was one of six physicians selected for induction into the hall this year.

Chief of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at St. Michael’s from 1997-2013, Dr. Berger has been at the forefront of many battles for enlightened and humane health care. His 40-year career as a family physician is a record of advocacy and activism on behalf of health care for all people, regardless of their circumstances.

“Many medical practices now considered standard were once controversial initiatives requiring courage to defend and achieve,” said Dr. Robert Howard, president and CEO of the health network uniting Providence Healthcare, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital. “Dr. Philip Berger has defended and achieved like no one else I’ve ever met, promoting methadone treatment and needle exchanges, documenting and recognizing the after-effects of torture, establishing an academic infirmary for the homeless, and treating AIDS in Toronto and Africa—all while developing the next generation of medical leaders.”

Dr. Berger has been a physician for HIV-infected patients since the epidemic began in Toronto. He started out with his own community practice before moving to the Wellesley Hospital, which joined St. Michael’s in 1998.

“The first 15 years of treating HIV/AIDS patients were defined by despair, hopelessness and fear,” said Dr. Berger in an interview with St. Michael’s for World AIDS Day. “Five or six people who were part of my medical practice died every month. I carried around death certificates in my briefcase, for house calls.”

Dr. Berger’s medical school graduation photo from 1974
Dr. Berger’s medical school graduation photo from 1974.

In 1987, Dr. Berger co-founded the Toronto HIV Primary Care Physicians Group and established the HIV Project Centre Primary Care Mentor Program.

Also an advocate for victims of torture, Dr. Berger founded the Amnesty International Canadian Medical Network (English), and co-founded the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture. In 2012, he co-founded Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, coordinating nationwide protests by physicians against cuts to refugee health, which led to a successful Federal Court of Canada Charter challenge restoring health coverage to about 100,000 refugees.

Canadian Medical Hall of Fame Laureates are individuals whose contributions to medicine and the health sciences have led to extraordinary improvements in human health.

Dr. Berger’s induction class includes the late Dr. Emily Stowe—the first female physician to practice medicine in Canada—Dr. B. Brett Finlay, Dr. Vladimir Hachinski, Dr. Balfour Mount, and Dr. Cheryl Rockman-Greenberg.

"The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame is proud to welcome these six individuals whose outstanding contributions to health have made Canada, and the world, a better place," said Dr. Taylor. "Their impact is well documented and they have earned their place alongside the current 125 Laureates of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame."

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 29 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.