NEWBERRY — Growing up in Upstate New York outside of Albany before college, Michael Bernardo always thought he wanted to be a biologist.
He got his undergraduate degree in biology from Cornell University in 1978 and remained there in the Entomology Department until 1985, first working as a research specialist and later getting a master’s in Medical Entomology and Parasitology.
He traveled to Africa and Central America, living in Liberia, West Africa, for five months where he did research on River Blindness, the second leading cause of infectious blindness in the world.
It was then that he became interested in medicine for the first time.
“It was during this time that I felt God calling me not just to research, but to care for patients,” said Bernardo, who said his life started to change when be became a Christian while in college.
Bernardo attended Cornell Medical in New York City in 1985. “I thought I was going to be a missionary doctor,” he said.
He received two awards as a senior — the first for being the top student in the study of infectious disease, and the second, the Good Physician Award, given to the graduate voted by classmates as most demonstrating the qualities of being a good physician, of which Bernardo said he’s most proud.
While completing his residency at the University of Virginia, Bernardo said he realized there was a need for medical care in rural areas. It was then he decided to look for work in the United States.
It was about this time that he met his wife, Darly, who is from Pickens. The two met the first day of their internship at University of Virginia Family Medicine in 1989. Darly had come from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston.
After dating about one and a half years through the 70- to 90-hour work weeks they had as interns and residents, they married in 1991 during their second year of residency. Their first child, Nate, was born during their third year of residency.
“She was the first female resident in our program to have a baby while in her training, and she worked hard to finish in the same graduate year, just one month behind the rest of us,” Bernardo said.
The two shared the same passion for medicine and began looking in New York as well as South Carolina for job opportunities. The two soon went to work at Lovelace Family Medicine in Prosperity where they were for five years before opening up their own practice, Newberry Family Health Center in 1997.
“At the medical school I went to, nobody goes into family practice,” Bernardo said. “I was one of few.”
Bernardo said a number of his classmates have become well known in the medical world.
“One is a leading kidney transplant specialist in New York City, one is an orthopedist who operates on the New York Yankees, several are teaching med students and some are residents in some of the best hospitals in the country,” Bernardo said. “I am the only one practicing in the rural South.”
However, Bernardo’s passion was in everything, which made a family practice seem so inviting. Not only did he want to deliver babies, but he also wanted to take care of kids and young adults.
“I wanted to be the kind of doctor who could get to know whole families, and care for several generations,” Bernardo said.
He also wanted to be able to take care of most medical situations that presented themselves, which is why he felt a family practice was a good fit.
After selling the practice to Self Memorial Hospital in 2010, Bernardo said he wanted to make the transition into geriatric care. He and his wife continued to work there until 2013 before he opened Bernardo Geriatrics and Home Care at 1109 Wilson St.
“I love doing a little bit of everything, but it just seemed like there was a need in that area,” Bernardo said.
As he saw patients in nursing homes and hospice, and did home-based care on elderly or disabled shut-ins, Bernardo said he realized that was the path his career was taking him on and he has found he really enjoys it. His wife Darly now works in Occupational Health at Louis Rich in Newberry and Fuji Film in Greenwood part time.
Michael and Darly have four children, Nate, Grace, Claire and Amy. Nate, now 22, is working at Newberry County Memorial Hospital in the morgue and is working on taking the Medical College Administration Test (MCAT) to attend medical school next year. He obtained his college degree from Furman University.
Grace, 21, graduated from Furman University this year and is currently in Cherokee, N.C., working with the outdoor theater production “Unto These Hills.” Once she completes that, she will study theater in Moscow for three months before looking for a career in the arts.
Claire is 16 and a junior starting her first year at the S.C. Governor’s School for Math and Science in Hartsville. Her aspiration is to become a doctor.
The youngest, Amy, 15, will begin school as a sophomore at the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts in Greenville in the fall. Those studying dance are able to attend as sophomores. She hopes to dance professionally.