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Published: November 16, 2019

Honoring the Passing of a Gentle Giant

Originally appeared in California Family Physician Magazine (Fall 2019), authored by Marshall Kubota, MD

This past August, family medicine and the CAFP lost a friend.  Dr. John Dervin passed away peacefully at his home in Sebastopol surrounded by family and close friends.

I think John could be said to have been one of the young guns of family practice in its infancy as a specialty.  John was highlighted in the CAFP’s “Honor Your Past, Prepare for Your Future:  50 years of California Family Medicine” book, published in 1998.  In the interview for that book, John said, “family physicians should be trained to perform many procedures … vasectomy, colposcopy, endoscopy” … thus ensuring continuity and comprehensive care.

John graduated from the St. Louis School of Medicine in 1967.  He interned at Los Angeles County Hospital, where he met Pat, his wife of more than 50 years. John completed his General Practice Residency at Community Hospital of Sonoma County in 1970 where his leadership qualities were proven as Chief Resident.

He joined the Navy in July 1970 and was stationed at the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. Once more, leadership shone in establishing the first family practice residency in the Navy, where he served as the residency director.  John used to tell the story, having been trained in vasectomy, that he showed up at the vasectomy clinic staffed by a Navy urologist.  Seeing John perform a vasectomy the urologist never came back.  John performed hundreds of vasectomies, likely saving the Defense Department many thousands of dollars.  Everyone trained by John in doing vasectomies was astounded at the speed with which he could eliminate gene pools.

He and Pat returned to Santa Rosa in 1972, helping to establish that early family practice residency program there … its splendid reputation carries to this day. He served as the associate director for many years, all while having an active clinical practice. John was a Fellow at the UCSF Department of Family and Community Medicine and was later appointed a clinical professor. He was colleague and friends with pioneers of family medicine, David Werdeger, John Geyman, John Blossom, Jack Rodnick, Frank Dornfest and many others.  John was a key participant in the establishment of the Nurse Practitioner Program at Sonoma State University, bringing nurse practitioners and students into the Residency Family Practice Center.

John was a familiar face at the CAFP annual meetings where he taught and encouraged family physicians to expand their scope of practice to include many of the procedures that are part of the skill set integral to our practice of medicine. He was honored with the CAFP Foundation’s 1997 Barbara Harris Award for Excellence in Education.  “Every residency program needs a faculty member like John,” said Dr. Paulette Adams, CAFP President, “to teach residents procedures they will use in their practices. He sets high standards for his own performance, as well as that of the residents and is a very thorough and persistent teacher.”

He was in that rarified air of physicians, those who were so well read as to engender disbelief, yet he applied his knowledge and skills to the patients for whom he cared and to those of us fortunate enough to be his students and colleagues. This was generously mixed with the Burl Ives look and mirth and the razor sharp wit that was legend.

Family medicine continues to lead health care, building upon the strong framework of those founders of our specialty. Somewhere at the base foundation is a cornerstone with John Dervin etched upon it.

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