Dr. Scott Beckman, 62, liked to kid with his patients at Jasper Obstetrics and Gynecology that he was a late bloomer.
When you start your medical practice at age 40, the joke works.
Scott enrolled in Indiana University’s School of Medicine at age 32. By that point, he’d already found success in Dubois County’s medical community as he worked his way up at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center from EMT to the dual role of Dubois County EMS coordinator and director of ambulance service. He’d also been elected county coroner in 1988.
Even with that success, his mentors — Dr. Frank Hopkins, the late Dr. Phil Dawkins and ER nurse Lillie Ingle — and wife, Chris, saw potential for more. They encouraged him to pursue medical school, and their support led him to IU’s School of Medicine. There, he connected with fellow Jasper High School alumnus Dr. Steve Hopf, founder of Jasper OB/GYN. When Scott graduated in 2001, he joined Hopf’s practice.
Scott’s 22-year career ended abruptly in February of 2022 when he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“It’s like a gut punch when you hear the diagnosis,” Scott said.
The diagnosis led him to retire a few years earlier than he’d planned, ending a career that saw him revolutionize OB/GYN surgery in Jasper, teach countless medical students and deliver roughly 4,000 babies.
As he underwent treatment, Scott sent regular email updates to his colleagues at Jasper OB/GYN. He signed each one “Onward.”
“[It] seemed to fit with what I had going on and trying to stay positive about it,” Scott said. “Each step is part of the journey, and to get to the end, you have to keep going onward.”
Although he hadn’t yet named it, he lived the wisdom of “onward” in his practice with his patients.
Whether guiding parents-to-be through successful deliveries or leading patients through struggles with infertility, endometriosis or other maladies, Beckman walked beside his patients modeling the strength of putting one foot in front of the other.
“He would cry with his patients. He would pray with his patients. He always had time for his patients,” said Cathy Tarvin, Scott’s primary nurse. “We always ran behind, but he always had time.”
The two met when Beckman was an EMT and Tarvin was a nurse at Jasper Nursing Home (now The Timbers). Scott responded to a call to take one of Tarvin’s residents to the hospital. Tarvin needed to process the patient’s transfer, but she’d never done it before. The two stood at the desk, Tarvin a bit overwhelmed and Scott patiently helping her figure out what paperwork to send with the patient.
Tarvin never forgot Scott’s kindness. When he went into practice in 2001, Tarvin applied to be his nurse. They spent the next two decades working side-by-side, and Tarvin even put off her own retirement to retire with Scott.
Scott led a future-focused practice, always looking for the best new technologies and treatments for his patients and for opportunities to foster the next generation of OB/GYN physicians.
Focusing on the future led Scott to introduce laparoscopic hysterectomies to Jasper.
Doctors perform laparoscopic surgeries using instruments as thick as a pen that are inserted through incisions only as wide as a pinky finger. Thanks to the minimally invasive method, OB/GYN patients no longer endure large abdominal incisions and enjoy shorter recoveries. The method also cuts time in the operating room. An operation that once took three to four hours can be done in half an hour laparoscopically. The method took off in the Midwest during Scott’s residency in the late 1990s, and he brought the practice home when he moved back to Jasper and joined Jasper OB/GYN.
“He’s the one who made the effort to say we should be doing this here,” Hopf said. “[He was] very progressive, very up-to-date.”
Patient care was Scott’s first focus, but teaching was a close second. His passion for fostering the next generation began long before he entered private practice. In the dual role of Dubois County EMS coordinator and director of ambulance service at the hospital, he taught new EMTs. While in residency, he dedicated time to teaching medical school students.
He continued to make time for teaching when he entered private practice and became the regional site leader for OB/GYN clerkship for IU’s Evansville campus and an adjunct clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology for IU’s School of Medicine. He won several teaching awards over his career, including Outstanding Educator in Indiana.
Scott and Tarvin welcomed students into their everyday work. Students shadowing them gained hands-on experience measuring bellies, conducting full exams and helping with deliveries. At the end of the day, Scott always made time to answer students’ lingering questions. Hopf recalled many an evening leaving the office at dinner time with Scott and his students still gathered in the office.
“I loved sitting and talking to students, not only about OB/GYN and about medicine in general but life in general,” Scott said. “It’s easy to get so caught up in your education life that you forget to have life. I encouraged them to be mindful of that and take care of themselves, too.”
It was wisdom gleaned through experience. Thanks to the demands of medical school and the 24/7 on call of being an OB/GYN, Scott sacrificed a lot of time with Chris and their two sons, Ross and Alec.
Chris described her experience during Scott’s years in medical school as being “single and with a child.” The family got a brief reprieve from Scott’s grueling schedule when they returned to Jasper. It took a few years for Scott to build his practice, but as his patient load grew, so did the demands on his time.
“OBs have a terrible lifestyle,” Chris said. “They don’t sleep. We only got him part time. It was always a blessing when he was with us, but we didn’t count on him to be with us.”
Chris knew the sacrifices allowed Scott to pursue a fulfilling career, and Scott calls her his biggest support. It was her support that ultimately spurred him to become a doctor.
“I’d thought about medical school, but it really took Chris being supportive and saying, ‘Let’s do it,” he said.
Chris’s support became more vital after Scott’s leukemia diagnosis.
The news came in a whirlwind. Scott went for a bone marrow biopsy between deliveries one Friday in February. The following Monday, he got the official diagnosis: acute myeloid leukemia.
That Wednesday, he underwent his first round of chemotherapy at Indianapolis at IU Health.
“It was devastating,” Tarvin said. “We were all devastated. When I called the patients, every one of them asked, ‘What can I do?’ They wanted to send him a card or pray for him.”
The first round of chemotherapy put the cancer in remission, but Scott and Chris had to be careful. Even the smallest cold could be catastrophic for Scott’s weakened immune system. With that in mind, Scott decided to retire. He saw his last patient in the summer of 2022, two months before his October 2022 bone marrow transplant.
Chris and Scott spent much of 2022 at home and were selective about visitors. If they had to go out, they donned face masks. Thankfully, Scott continued in remission, allowing the couple to loosen restrictions. In August 2023, they braved Jasper’s Strassenfest. It was the first community event they’d attended since Scott’s diagnosis.
Scott received more good news at his one-year post-transplant bone marrow biopsy. Results were completely normal. Doctors will continue to monitor his blood work, but Scott can say he beat leukemia.
“With the diagnosis, I think it gives you a different perspective,” he said. “You hear so many stories about people who retire, then have a serious illness and don’t get to enjoy it. As long as I continue to do well, [Chris and I] will get to travel and enjoy it more.”
They have several trips planned this fall.
Even in retirement, Scott can’t quite leave medicine behind. He’s maintained his board certifications and recently returned to teaching with a lecture to the residents at MHHCC’s Family Medicine Residency program. When the hospital started the program, Scott was among the first to sign on to be a regular lecturer.
“It was good to get back in the teaching saddle again,” Scott said with a smile. “It was fun engaging with them again.”
As Scott and Chris look back over their life together, it’s clear onward could have been their motto all along.
“It does define everything [about] the lifestyle completely,” Chris said.
It also matches the piece of wisdom Scott shared most: “Don’t let time keep you from doing something,” he said. “Even if you don’t find your lot in life right away, don’t give up on that idea.”
Keep moving onward.