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Sitting Down with Dr. Peter Grossman

Burn Care After graduating from Northwestern University, Chicago Medical School and training in multiple residency positions, Dr. Peter H. Grossman, MD, returned to his home in Los Angeles to further his expertise in treating burns under the guidance of his father. Nearly 14 years later, Dr. Grossman, now the president of Grossman Burn Centers, has continued to build GBC as a world-class burn center. Here he sits down with San Joaquin Community Hospital to discuss his practice, struggles and Grossmans’ foray into Bakersfield.

SJCH: Why did you decided to follow your father’s footsteps into burn reconstruction?
PG: When I was a kid, my brother and I used do rounds with my dad on the weekends. I distinctly remember stopping by the burn center and seeing the patients. There was just something about seeing these patients interact with my dad—the look of thanks and appreciation in their eyes stuck with me. There are only so many things you can do that help you earn a living and make a difference in people’s lives. 

SJCH: What is the most difficult case you have ever taken on?
PG: There are two different stages to addressing burn wounds: acute burns, when someone first gets burned and reconstructive burns which deal with the consequences of the burn. With acute burns there are many challenges because it takes a team of medical professionals to treat a person as side-effects, such as pneumonia can enter in. When it comes to reconstructive surgery, the most difficult cases are caring for patients from other countries that were not able to get good care in the acute stage. This makes their scarring quite severe and limits their ability to properly function. Those cases break your heart because if they would have had quality care up front, they would be much better off.

SJCH: Simply looking at the pictures of burn victims is difficult. How do you keep your emotions in check as you interact with them on a day-to-day basis?
PG: It’s often difficult for someone who doesn’t do this day in and day out to figure out how a doctor can separate their emotions. The reason we can separate our emotions is because we have had the experience of being able to heal. We know that we can make a person better. When a person first joins our team, it can be hard for them. But after they see the healing results, they are able to deal with the emotional aspect because they know the ends will justify the means.

SJCH: Speaking of emotions, how important is it to help a person heal psychologically after being burned?
PG: Burns are as much an emotional trauma as they are a physical trauma. People will just sit there and constantly dwell on the questions plaguing their mind: Will I be able to provide for my family? Have a relationship with my spouse? Play with my kids? Will I be ostracized from society? It is as important to treat patients psychologically as it is physically. We provide psychologists, group therapy and survivor conferences. We deal with them as individuals and treat the whole person—not just the skin.

SJCH: One of your most publicized cases has been the young Iraqi boy, Youssif. What has it been like to go through that process with so much media coverage?
PG: We’ve been fortunate to have some very positive media coverage in the past. But most of the time when we do cases, we don’t have the whole world looking at the results everyday. Honestly, it has added some pressure. But you just have to put that out of your mind and do what you do everyday. On the positive side, what is so wonderful about this story is the hundreds of thousands of people who send emails to the family and to me. It’s rewarding to see the triumph of the human spirit in people who just want to see a young boy get better.

SJCH: What does a Grossman Burn Center do differently from your typical county or university burn center?
PG: A Grossman Burn Center is a plastic surgery-based, comprehensive burn center. We take care of our patients from the moment they get burned through their reconstructive surgery with the goal of getting them back to a normal life. They will have the same doctors throughout their entire treatment, and really, they become part of our family.

SJCH: What does it mean to the residents of Bakersfield to have a Grossman Burn Center at San Joaquin Community Hospital?
PG: The city of Bakersfield has been growing steadily over the last couple of years and is an area in need of high-quality burn care. Up to now, patients have either had to drive to Fresno or LA to get proper burn treatment. Having a burn center in Bakersfield will provide a local center that has the same directorship and same quality as the burn centers in Sherman Oaks and Santa Ana. This is our first expansion in the last 10 years and we’ve chosen Bakersfield because the demographics of the region call for a burn center.

SJCH: How did you decide to partner with San Joaquin Community Hospital?
PG: We made sure to do our homework and have discussions with a number of hospitals in the region. As we did we found that SJCH was committed to having the best quality burn care and was willing to offer the support of other medical services. We are extremely excited to have this partnership.

SJCH: What has it been like to work with San Joaquin Community Hospital thus far? 
PG: At this point, San Joaquin has been an incredibly gracious host for us. It is a complex process to set up a new field of care in a hospital, but they have allowed us access to the resources we need. We are thrilled with the commitment that San Joaquin Community Hospital has toward providing the best healthcare to Bakersfield. We’re sure that bringing Grossman Burn Centers to Bakersfield will be a success for us, San Joaquin Community Hospital and most importantly, the community.