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Trifold of photos from campus tribute

Hundreds Come Together for Campus Tribute in Memory of Dr. Stephen Berman

Professorship and goals for an endowed chair announced

minute read

Dr. Stephen Berman, long-time director of the Center for Global Health in the Colorado School of Public Health, passed away from lymphoma earlier this year. His loss was felt deeply across the campus and his many friends and colleagues gathered at a tribute event held on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus on May 11, 2023. Six presenters covered the many dimensions of Dr. Berman’s career, offering colorful stories that captured his commitment to improving the health of children everywhere.  

To briefly recount some highlights of Dr. Berman’s career, he served as a professor of pediatrics in the CU School of Medicine and epidemiology in the Colorado School of Public Health. He also held an emeritus endowed chair in academic general pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Colorado and was the past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Starting in 2012, Dr. Berman led the Center for Global Health in the ColoradoSPH, and helped to receive designation as a World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Promoting Family and Child Health—a one-of-a-kind center in North America and a hub for global public health research and advocacy. He received countless honors for his efforts, including the Torch of Liberty Award from the Colorado Anti-Defamation League in 2017, and the Grulee Award for Outstanding Service from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2012.  

CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman opened the event with warm remarks on Dr. Berman’s contributions. “Throughout his career, Dr. Berman impacted so many people here at CU Anschutz, in the Colorado School of Public Health, and far, far beyond the boundaries of this campus, all of which enriched and extended our reach,” said Elliman. “We celebrate, without doubt, an extraordinary life and an extraordinary career. Our campus and community have been left with a void upon Steve’s passing. His legacy of service, mentorship, and achievement lives on, and for that, we can only be grateful.”

At the May 11 tribute, each speaker guided their reflections around one word used to describe the many facets of Dr. Berman: pediatrician, researcher, child health advocate, global health champion, and leader and mentor. Here are just a few of the heartfelt stories that were shared by the speakers: 

Steve Berman – Pediatrician  

Dr. Berman was a pediatrician and joined the CU School of Medicine faculty in 1978, and in 1981, he became the youngest section head of General Academic Pediatrics at 34. He spent his career dedicated to advancing pediatric care and health policy at home and abroad.   

“Steve described caring for patients with complex medical conditions as the most meaningful and enjoyable part of his career, and worked with a team that reads like a who’s who in Colorado pediatrics to create the Special Care Clinic to care for children with complex medical conditions,” said Steven Federico, MD, associate professor of pediatrics. “When I first met Steve in 1999, I was an intern and we were making rounds. He wore a pager that was twice as big as the rest of ours, and I asked him about it—and this was before cell phones—and he says, ‘Yeah, this is a 1-800 number pager. Anybody in the nation can page me at any time.’” 

Steve Berman – Researcher  

Well known for his contributions to pediatric education, Steve authored four editions of his pediatric textbook, Pediatric Decision Making, and published more than 100 peer-reviewed research articles and textbook chapters related to common pediatric clinical problems, such as acute respiratory infections, diarrhea, and immunizations. He published a book on child advocacy and health policy entitled Getting it Right for Children: Stories of Pediatric Care and Advocacy. He was also an editor of Global Child Health Advocacy: On the Front Lines and the editor of the disaster course manual Pediatrics in Disasters (PEDS), which was developed and is disseminated in collaboration with the AAP and the World Health Organization. PEDS course materials are used worldwide and are available in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Cambodian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese.  

“Steve’s research spans so many different areas. He was, in fact, sort of the poster child for ignoring the adage that many of us give our trainees: that they need to focus, focus, focus, in one area,” said Allison Kempe, MD, MPH, professor of pediatrics and director of the Adult and Child Center for Outcomes Research and Delivery Sciences (ACCORDS), echoing similar thoughts about Dr. Berman’s dedication and perseverance. “He simply would not do it. Whenever he saw the need in his clinical or policy work to solve a problem, that’s where his research would take him.” 

Steve Berman – Child Health Advocate 

Dr. Berman spent his career devoted to children in need and was a staunch advocate for child health both here and abroad in many countries: Colombia, India, Guatemala and more. A true advocate for others, he helped to pass key legislation in Colorado and in the U.S. for children to have better access to healthcare. He and his wife, Elaine, were among a small group of advocates who nurtured the idea of having a voice for Colorado’s kids at the capitol, and created the Colorado Children’s Campaign, a nonprofit organization that grounds its advocacy in research and data. 

“He was prolific in his advocacy work, and the resulting impact is truly remarkable,” said Cody Belzley, Colorado School of Public Health Advisory Board member, and former vice president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign “In addition to the thousands of kids who have benefited from the direct patient care they received from Dr. Berman, there are millions of kids—I'd venture to say tens of millions of kids—who've never met Steve and yet benefited from his commitment and his tenacity… What a legacy to make population change and improve the lives of tens of millions of children.” 

Steve Berman – Global Health Champion 

Dr. Berman’s vision for ColoradoSPH’s Center for Global Health was to make a major contribution to improving the health and welfare of the world’s poorest populations and to see the Center become one of the world’s leading global health programs. Through his work to connect students, researchers, and programs across campus in the Colorado School of Public Health, CU School of Medicine, and in Children’s Hospital Colorado, Dr. Berman amplified global awareness of maternal and child health and expanded the reach of ColoradoSPH and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. 

“What made Steve someone exceptional at his job in global health was his willingness to go where need was, to extend his hand to friends and mentees, to make a difference by acting and not just advising,” said Edwin Asturias, MD, professor of pediatric infectious disease and epidemiology and Director of Latin American Projects for the Center for Global Health, who talked about Dr. Berman’s work as a global health champion. “He knew the power of experiencing people’s struggles firsthand, of learning and understanding the hard life of others so he could become their voice, and to gather people and teach us about the hardships and unleash the change rooted in experience and collaboration.” 

Steve Berman – Leader and Mentor 

Asked to speak about Dr. Berman’s leadership and as a mentor to everyone around him, his own physician recorded a tribute that was shown during the May 11 event. “The best teachers inspire,” said Mark Earnest, MD, PhD, professor of internal medicine, and a friend, colleague and mentee of Dr. Berman’s. “They enable their learners to discover who they are and who they could be. Perhaps more importantly, they help their learners wrestle with and ultimately answer the more important question, who should they be? Good teachers transmit knowledge and skills. They change attitudes. Great teachers transmit courage. Steve Berman was a great teacher.” 

Steve Berman – Looking Forward  

Rounding out the tribute speakers was Former Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Dean for the CU School of Medicine, Dr. Richard Krugman. Krugman shared advice for the future and how we all can carry on Dr. Berman’s legacy through maintaining his passions that each speaker highlighted.  

“If you want to know how to look forward from these experiences, there are a couple of lessons for those of you who are much younger than most who are in this room, because, for most of us in this room, it may be a little late,” said Krugman. “The first lesson in looking forward is: do your best to have a supportive spouse. It really does help. Stay in one place if you can. That's something that many younger generations either have forgotten or haven't figured out yet. And as both Steve's mentor and many of our mentors said, don't think it hasn't been fun.” 

The Stephen Berman, MD, Endowed Distinguished Professorship for Global Health 

At the end of the event, Colorado School of Public Health Dean Jon Samet announced a crowdfunding campaign, led by faculty and friends on campus, to establish the Stephen Berman, MD, Endowed Distinguished Professorship for Global Health.  Those interested in contributing can do so through CU’s Community Funded website and through the Dr. Steve Berman Memorial Fund. Over time, the fund is expected to grow to a fully endowed Chair in honor of Dr. Berman. 

“This professorship will help realize Steve's vision for the Center for Global Health and continue it on its trajectory of becoming one of the world's leading global health programs,” said Samet.  

Dr. Steve Berman dedicated more than 50 years to advocating for others, creating a sense of community everywhere he went, and mentoring generations of pediatricians, family practitioners, and global health and public health students and professionals. His legacy lives on through the meaningful contributions and memories he left with us all.