Gloria Beim, MD, received one of the most anticipated phone calls of her life one morning in February 2013, just after she had completed a patient’s shoulder surgery. When she was told that Dr. Bill Moreau of the U.S. Olympic Committee was waiting on the line for her, she ripped off her surgical gown and ran to the phone.
“When Dr. Moreau asked me to be the chief medical officer for Team USA at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, I almost needed to be revived with the crash cart that was about 10 feet from me,” recalled Dr. Beim.
“I was so honored and excited that I could hardly speak,” she continued. “When I got off the phone, I felt a rush of emotions. In fact, it was one of the most exciting moments of my life, next to having my two beautiful children, Skylar and Jakob.”
The path to Sochi
Dr. Beim’s remarkable life and achievements prepared her well for the challenge of serving as Team USA’s chief medical officer (see “The Tenacious Dr. Beim”).
The incredibly fit and energetic Dr. Beim founded the Alpine Orthopaedics Sports Medicine & Regional Hand Center in 1999, with three clinic locations on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies—and also founded Alpine Surgery Center in 2006. She is known for her expertise in treating sports medicine injuries as well as her penchant for listening to music by Guns ’N Roses or Chopin in the operating room.
“I have been told that I have a ton of energy!” exclaimed Dr. Beim. “I am just so happy all of the time because I’m able to do what I love.
“I love playing hockey, skiing, biking, weightlifting, and riding horses,” she continued. “It helps to be fit when you work long hours in the clinic. In particular, weightlifting comes in handy when you have to reduce a 210-lb football player’s hip dislocation.”
Dr. Beim’s experience caring for skiers and other winter sport athletes prepared her for her role in Sochi, as did her prior experience as a team physician and chief medical officer. She not only served as team physician for the U.S. Cycling Team during two previous Olympic Games, but also acted as the chief medical officer at the World University Games in 2005 and the Pan Am Games in 2011.
Caring for Team USA
Dr. Beim’s physical fitness and energy served her well at the Olympics, where she worked 18 hours or longer each day overseeing three clinics and almost 80 physicians and healthcare practitioners. Orthopaedic surgeons, family medicine practitioners, chiropractors, internists, athletic trainers, physical therapists, massage therapists, and nutritionists all reported to her.
“We had a sports medicine clinic for the U.S. athletes at each of the three athletes’ villages,” said Dr. Beim. “We had a pharmacy, medical equipment, and recovery equipment that the athletes could access in their villages. We also had access to musculoskeletal ultrasound, radiography, magnetic resonance imaging machines, and computed tomography scanners .”
According to Dr. Beim, it is difficult to describe how much she enjoyed serving as chief medical officer.
“The experience was absolutely amazing,” she said. “We had a great medical team that delivered flawless care to all of our athletes. We had great recovery services right within our village housing, which was convenient for the athletes. It always makes a difference for an injured athlete to see a familiar face, a person who speaks their language and can facilitate their treatment.”
Fortunately, noted Dr. Beim, Team USA did not have any injuries or illnesses requiring emergency surgeries or hospitalizations.
“We did have some mild upper respiratory illnesses, a few gastrointestinal illnesses, a few anterior cruciate ligament tears, shoulder injuries, and some minor fractures and lacerations,” said Dr. Beim. “Recovery and treatment of chronic injuries was what kept our medical staff the busiest.”
Dr. Beim noted that everything involved in the athletes’ medical care ran incredibly smoothly, thanks to all the planning efforts.
“Many people do not realize how much preparation is necessary to do everything that must be done. We had to establish hospital contacts, coordinate emergency evacuation planning, secure the correct medical equipment, set up the pharmacy, develop an offsite international clinic, and much more.”
One of the most challenging aspects for Dr. Beim was learning the Russian language.
“I learned how to speak and read Russian in the months preceding the games, which made all the difference in the world,” said Dr. Beim. “Being able to communicate with native speakers was not only fun, but also necessary to get the best care for our team. I made an effort to make friends with everyone at the hospitals, clinics, and medical stations prior to the athletes’ arrival in Sochi, which made for very efficient clinic visits. It was also rewarding to make so many Russian friends.
“I even spoke briefly with President Putin, who complimented me on my ability to speak the Russian language,” she added.
Recently, Dr. Beim also had the opportunity to visit the White House with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams.
“We toured the White House and then met and shook hands with the president and the first lady,” said Dr. Beim. “Then, they gave a speech congratulating all of the athletes on their success at the winter games.
“It was very exciting,” added Dr. Beim. “I really enjoyed hanging out with the athletes again. It was pretty amazing to meet two presidents within 6 weeks.”
Overall, said Dr. Beim, the experience of serving as chief medical officer for Team USA ranks as the greatest honor of her life.
“As soon as I learned I would be the chief medical officer, I was on a mission to prove that the U.S. Olympic Committee made the right choice, which is why I took learning the language so seriously. It was an honor to serve Team USA. In fact, I would have been happy just to go and schlep luggage for the team. But having such a challenging role was incredibly
Jennie McKee is a senior science writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at email@example.com
The Tenacious Dr. Beim
An incredibly talented student, Dr. Beim began attending Pierce College at age 14 and transferred to the University of California at San Diego 2 years later, when she was old enough to live away from her parents. Both of her parents are Holocaust survivors who encouraged their daughter to achieve her dreams.
“As a child, my mother was hidden from the Nazis for 2 and a half years, and my father was in many concentration camps throughout the war, including Auschwitz,” said Dr. Beim. “My father was not allowed to go to school after fifth grade because Jews were forbidden from attending school in Poland at that time.”
At the conclusion of the war, Dr. Beim’s father moved to the United States and made a life for himself and his family.
“His dream to become a doctor was always in the back of my mind,” said Dr. Beim.
Although she initially wanted to be a veterinarian, a bad injury to her knee changed her focus from animals to people.
“When I was 16 years old, I remember asking an orthopaedist about whether it would be a good idea for me to pursue a career in orthopaedics,” recalled Dr. Beim. “He told me that orthopaedics was not for women due to strength limitations. I joined a gym the next day and started lifting weights.”
When her fellow medical school students complained about the “torture” of staying up all night studying or being in the operating room all night, Dr. Beim would recall her parents’ experiences.
“Staying up all night studying and spending long hours in the operating room at one of the finest medical schools in the world was a privilege and honor,” she said. “I always had a smile on my face and never complained.”
Although her parents inspired her to reach for the stars, she “almost never dared to dream about becoming something as amazing as the chief medical officer for Team USA,” she said.