11:13 AM

#WeAreCookChildren's: A New Path for Donald Beam, M.D.

For a man who has stepped foot on every continent, except Antarctica, and has literally climbed a mountain (Mount Kilimanjaro), Donald Beam, M.D., was quick to name Egypt as the most spectacular place he has been.

“You don’t just go to Egypt and see some sights,” Dr. Beam said. “You see a culture that’s thousands of years old. There’s so much human history there behind these spectacular pyramids and the people who lived there.”

Beyond this favorite destination, Dr. Beam finds that same connection to humanity as the most rewarding aspect of his career. But before he came to Cook Children’s Hematology and Oncology team, where he was recently named medical director of the specialty, his original plan needed adjusting.

Originally, Dr. Beam majored in physics and, specifically, astrophysics. However, a revelation occurred during a college Calculus IV course.

Early in the semester, he walked into class and was greeted with a problem that stretched from board to board to board. The professor told the students at the end of an hour and a half that they would just resume solving the problem the next time they met.

“I realized that this is not what I wanted to do,” Dr. Beam said. “Facing a math problem that I couldn’t solve in 90 minutes was simply not for me.”

This realization put him on a path for molecular biology with a focus on research and not necessarily as a practicing physician. But one simple thing made him embrace the idea of becoming a physician: the people.

“As a first-year medical student, we would go to a family practice clinic and see patients to learn how to interact with them,” he said. “I fell in love with that aspect of being a doctor. Those interactions were what I enjoyed.”

To this day, the connection with the patients and families is what Dr. Beam values the most. “Truthfully, that’s what we all come here for, right?” he said. “We see people at their lowest point, and you are in a position to bring them through. That’s a trusting relationship that you wouldn’t trade for anything.”

A particular parent made this very clear. At one point when her child was incredibly sick with multiple complications, Dr. Beam offered a simple but sincere reassurance, “I think he’s going to get through this,” which resonated with this mother, as she told Dr. Beam much later.

“I can only speak for our world in H/O but the parents remember nothing specific after you tell them the ‘C word’. It just shuts down,” he said. “But they remember the people and their interactions.”

Now, as he begins a new phase in his career as the medical director of Hematology and Oncology, Dr. Beam offered some reflections and thanks.

“With this team, there’s an expert that’s here and accessible in virtually every area that the patient may need,” he said. “That’s a credit to this department that Dr. Gretchen Eames passes on to me to lead. I’m honored to take that responsibility and to be able to continue this voyage to new places. I’m grateful to Gretchen for putting us on this path.”

One path Dr. Beam will continue to follow is the amount of research conducted by the Hematology and Oncology teams at Cook Children’s. “In the adult world, maybe 15% of people with cancer are on some kind of research trial. When you get to pediatrics, the percentage jumps up to 90%. Our standard of care really is research and that’s how we’ve done so much better with cure rates. Plus, I love the research aspect of our world.”

But the role of research isn’t the only appeal when it comes to pediatrics. “Personally, another thing that’s a difference-maker is that fact that we get to work with kids,” Dr. Beam said with a laugh. “Why would you do something different if you can always have popsicles and have video games to play in your spare time?”

“When I first came to Cook Children’s, it was clear that there’s no place else. This is where I needed to be and I want others to feel that same way,” he said. “I definitely enjoy the people…the environment…it’s spectacular. It’s a crown jewel and I still look at it that way after all these years.”

Under Dr. Beam’s leadership, marked by an optimistic, fun-loving, sincere approach toward his patients and work, the Cook Children’s Hematology and Oncology Department will no doubt maintain its reputation for excellence.

Through that success, we can all enthusiastically proclaim #WeAreCookChildrens.