Member Spotlight: Deanna Behrens, MD

By Amy Kuyken posted 17 days ago


Member Spotlight: Deanna Behrens, MD

, is a physician at the Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois, USA. She joined the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) in 2014 and is active as a member of the Pediatric Critical Care Medicine (PCCM) editorial board and social media committee. In her free time, you will find her reading, traveling, and practicing yoga. Her clinical interests include patient and family support, pediatrics, ICU mobility, advocacy, and firearm injury prevention. Get to know Dr. Behrens and her love for critical care.

How did you get into critical care?

I worked on fluid and blood flow for my master of science in mechanical engineering. I enjoy translating the skills I learned in engineering to the bedside. One of my first internal medicine rotations was in the medical intensive care unit (ICU). While I was nervous about it, it was my favorite rotation that year. However, I did not seriously consider a career in critical care until my first rotation in the pediatric ICU (PICU). While we deal with serious issues every day, the kids almost always find a way to make me smile.

What is your biggest professional achievement?

As pediatric intensivists, we are ultimately responsible for every child in the hospital. Paul Wise, MD, MPH, said, “Pediatricians are the ultimate witness to failed social policy.” It is my professional responsibility as a pediatrician to advocate for children outside the hospital as well as inside the hospital.

I am a Health Policy Scholar through the Pediatric Academic Societies, and my project focuses on advancing legislation to reduce the burden of firearm injuries on children. Guns are the leading cause of death for children. Firearm violence is a public health epidemic for people of all ages, yet research is lacking on the effects of gun violence in critical care, including pediatric critical care.

In 2021, PCCM published its first article on outcomes of firearm injuries in children admitted to the PICU. Along with Katherine Hoops, MD, I wrote an editorial about the responsibilities of pediatric intensivists in firearm injury and violence prevention. My goal is to continue to work to have a stronger voice in the critical care community when advocating for issues that affect children, including firearm violence.

Why do you love being in critical care?

I love the interesting physiology in the PICU and the ability to develop close relationships with patients and families. We implemented PICU Up, an ICU mobility program, in our unit. A few months ago, we took a patient on a field trip to our garden. It was the highlight of my week. When that patient was transferred out of the unit, her parents sent beautiful handwritten notes to many of the team. The generosity of spirit in the PICU never fails to astonish me.

Looking at past Member Spotlights, I was delighted to see nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, advanced practice practitioners, and other specialties highlighted. I am grateful on a daily basis to be at an institution where I like and trust my coworkers. I could not do this work without having absolute faith in the other members of our multiprofessional team.

What advice do you have for those starting their critical care careers?

As I have progressed in my career, I have become more humble and ask for help more often. This profession requires lifelong learning and collaboration. No one can learn the breadth and depth of critical care in the timespan of a fellowship. We should seek to continue to learn and grow.

Establishing relationships with mentors in multiple realms is key. Asking for help is a sign of maturity, and it is critical to be in an environment that is collaborative and supportive, especially at the beginning of your career. Do not be afraid to seek mentorship inside and outside your institution.

One of the things that I really appreciate about social media is the ability to connect with people worldwide. Without exception, when I have reached out to people, they have been kind and generous with their time and expertise. Further, I am honored when people seek me out, and I often learn as much from them as they do from me.

What are the top advances in critical care since you started your career?

I love the focus on improving mobility and reducing long-term morbidity in PICU survivors.

What industry trends have you excited about the future?

I am excited about the evolution of individualized treatment for patients and the potential impacts of data science and data-driven research to improve outcomes for children.

What do you see as the most challenging issue facing critical care?

It is difficult to be in this profession, especially when caring for children, without going all in. However, this has to be tempered with measures to improve wellness and self-care to prevent burnout. We have to do something different. Without systemic measures to address burnout and staffing shortages, we risk losing our most experienced team members. When that happens, there is not only the loss of the individuals as bedside clinicians but also the loss of mentorship opportunities for newer staff, which increases the risk that they in turn might leave. This is true for all disciplines.

We also need immediate action to reduce disparities in health outcomes. I applaud current efforts to improve diversity and reduce inequity. We need to be intentional about reducing gender inequality and promoting antiracism in medicine.

What do you love about SCCM membership?

SCCM membership has been valuable to my career as a pediatric intensivist. I appreciate SCCM’s collaborative and multiprofessional facets, and I have forged personal and professional relationships through connections made at SCCM.

As a pediatric intensivist at a large non-academic institution, I stay up to date on current trends and research with the annual Critical Care Congress and through the Pediatrics Section. During the past several years, it has been my pleasure to be a reviewer for PCCM, and I was honored to be named to the editorial board in 2022. I appreciate that the journal seeks out reviewers from diverse backgrounds.

Connect with me on SCCM Connect @Deanna Behrens or Twitter @DeannaMarie208