Up-and-Comers: Erin C. Burns

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Doernbecher Children's
February 28, 2017
Erin C. Burns, M.D.

Erin C. Burns, M.D.
Pediatric Intensivist, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital; Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, OHSU School of Medicine

Burns is a 2012 graduate from OHSU's Pediatrics Residency and completed OHSU’s Pediatric Critical Care Fellowship in 2015. As part of the volunteer medical team for the International Children’s Heart Foundation, Burns has travelled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic to help repair congenital heart defects in children. She works in the Doernbecher pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), where she helps seriously ill and injured children stabilize and heal. 

How did you decide to become an intensive care doctor?

I often think back to my mom. One day when I was in high school, she was driving me home from a softball game and suddenly pulled the car over to a screeching halt. She jumped out of the car and ran back the way we had come. I hadn’t been paying attention, but there was a big accident behind us. A man had flipped his car and he was trapped. My mom ran back to the wreck and manually extricated this large guy from his vehicle. My mom is about 5 foot 1, but she knew what she was doing – she was an operating room nurse. She wrapped up his mangled arm, holding pressure until the ambulance arrived. I took it all in. This quiet little lady who seldom talked about work was a total superwoman. I try to channel her now in my day-to-day work.


What do love about your work?

I feel so privileged to take care of children every day. It’s a heady responsibility. What never ceases to amaze me is the toughness these kids exhibit. I recently took care of a patient with leukemia. She’s been through the ringer. Chemotherapy. Relapses. Frequent re-admission to the hospital because of complications. I watched her grit it out every single day.

Sometimes you take a step back and think about what you are seeing, and it can be hard to take in. That’s where the training kicks in. You learn to compartmentalize. You know your role. At work I am the doctor in charge of the PICU. I am going to fight for that kid or that family and make sure things get done well.


What is it like for families who have traveled long distances for care at Doernbecher?

There are so many families who have come two or six or more hours from home to be here. These are very sick kids, and a lot of parents can’t bear to leave their child’s side. They live their life in the hospital room, which is not ideal.

That’s why family housing is so important – like Ronald McDonald House and the new Gary & Christine Rood Family Pavilion we’re building on the South Waterfront. It’s important for parents to have somewhere to go to get real sleep, and to take care of their own health and sanity, so they can be more present for their child. It provides a community, too. They meet other families going through the same thing.


View the entire Up-and-Comers gallery.


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