Dr. Dianna Burns-Banks isnâ€™t sentimental. She doesnâ€™t remember the exact date she founded South Texas Center for Pediatric Care or keep many mementos in her office.
But she can tell you stories about the former patients whose pictures hang in the practiceâ€™s corporate office, years after theyâ€™ve grown up.
Burns-Banks is the centerâ€™s managing partner. Her childhood dream was to be a pathologist, and when she came to San Antonio she was an emergency room doctor. Burns-Banks said she never thought sheâ€™d be a pediatrician, but as a devout Catholic, she believes it is the role God destined for her.
Growing up when schools were first integrating, she faced numerous obstacles to a good education, but she was hungry to succeed.
And she did.
Sheâ€™s a former president of Bexar County Medical Society and onetime chief of staff of Santa Rosa Childrenâ€™s Hospital and vice chair of the board at the Center for Healthcare Services. Today, Burns-Banks sits on the board of managers for the University Health System.
Burns-Banks opened the first South Texas Center for Pediatric Care facility in the mid-1980s at 1954 E. Houston St. downtown. She was disappointed in the lack of private practices on the East Side and wanted to help families looking for pediatricians. While the Houston Street location has since closed, the center now operates four clinics across San Antonio and one in Cibolo.
The practice has about 100 employees who treat between 7,000 and 8,000 patients every month. As founder and managing partner, Burns-Banks has shifted her focus from working directly with children to creating partnerships with organizations across the city to improve San Antonioâ€™s health care.
The center is currently working to improve access to health care for foster kids, and Burns-Banks is collaborating with a University Health System team thatâ€™s looking to build a new women and childrenâ€™s hospital.
Burns-Banks spoke with the San Antonio-Express-News in her office at the South Texas Center for Pediatric Care headquarters Thursday. The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: Where did you grow up, and where did you go to school?
A: I grew up in Meridian, Miss. I grew up during a time when the majority of schools were still segregated, but they were starting to integrate the schools. I went to Catholic school until I went to high school. Senior year, I went to a white high school. It was kind of a transition, going from a class of minorities to a class of all white.
You could come in and sit at a desk, with all the desks in a row, and everybody would pull their desk away from you so you were sitting in the middle of the room by yourself. It kind of makes you more determined. I was a reasonably good student there, even with all the obstacles.
I got accepted to a school called Memphis State University. Went there, and they thought I was white by the application â€” I guess the grades. But I was not going to go through another year of stuff â€” I just finished high school. So I ended up going to Xavier University, which is one of the HBCs (historically black colleges) in New Orleans. It was a great experience. It was a Catholic school.
Several years later, I got married and was actually working on my Ph.D. in microbiology. I was asked if I would like to go to medical school, and I said yes. It took me three and a half years to finish medical school, and I started my residency early.
Q: How did the educational challenges you faced shape your career?
A: I think that probably the initial challenge of growing up in the South was being able to go initially to segregated schools and then transitioning to integrated schools. The expectation in the labeling of who you could be based on your color probably is the biggest thing that shaped what I think now. I think it made me realize that at the end of the day, you really look to prove to people that they were wrong.
You become successful when somebody tells you you canâ€™t be. I think thatâ€™s the best way to get even or to prove yourself.
I think part of those things that started out as real obstacles gave you the groundwork to say, â€œI will not let you define what I am.â€
Q: Why did you move from working in the emergency room to specializing in pediatric care?
A: I love the ER because itâ€™s fast-paced, and youâ€™re taking care of an immediate problem and you see instant results. I believe in a lot of divine intervention and providence, and being downtown, you saw this absence of health care. Nobody was really concerned about taking care of the poor kids. There were some institutions that were dedicated, but there was not private practice on the East Side.
I think that was the part of it â€” realizing that the East Side was pretty neglected and it was not served as far as private practice. Itâ€™s one of those things where you could actually maybe make a difference.
Q: What impact has the center made?
A: I donâ€™t see myself as making a whole bunch of impact, and I donâ€™t see myself as doing anything that is very different. I still see myself as a little girl growing up in Mississippi. I donâ€™t see myself as any different from that.
The things that I value and that make the biggest difference for me are not the things that people can count and say that was worth so much. Itâ€™s the individual impacts that you make on little kidsâ€™ lives.
I did a commercial some time ago for the childrenâ€™s hospital and at the end of it, I say, â€œI have these wonderful patients, and you can be anything you want to be.â€ And this little patient comes in to me the next day and he says, â€œI can be anything I want to be.â€
That is so powerful to me. To have that much influence over somebody is wonderful.
Q: Before we started the recording, you were talking about some of the photos hanging in the conference room and in your office of kids who were patients and have grown up now, but you keep in touch with them.
A: Pediatricians follow kids for the longest. You will see somebody born and continue seeing them until they are 18 years old. You become involved in their life. You know their parents. You know their heartaches. You know the things that didnâ€™t work well. You celebrate with them. You become part of their life.
Thatâ€™s the way medicine was. Itâ€™s not quite like that now. But since my partners and I have been around a long time, we become involved in our patientsâ€™ lives.
When they walk up to you, you might not recognize them now because theyâ€™re a little bit older, but the minute they say something, it comes back to you. Itâ€™s a really unique experience to be part of somebody elseâ€™s life, and they elected for you to be part of it. Itâ€™s wonderful.
Q: You have talked a few times about your faith. How has your faith played a role in your career?
A: I think the reason Iâ€™m a pediatrician is probably part of divine intervention or providence. Since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a pathologist, which is as different from being a pediatrician as you possibly can be. And once I went through medical school, I wanted to be a surgeon. Those professions do not have long-term relationships. Pediatrics is just the opposite with long-term relationships.
So what happened to make me choose pediatrics over surgery was my husband became ill and I became kind of a caregiver. Surgery is a little more rigorous than pediatrics is.
I like pediatrics, and it became clear that this was what I was supposed to do, because I think one of my better suits is advocacy, and I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™d ever been able to do that in surgery.
I think God said this is the direction because I had definitely selected another direction.
I always think thereâ€™s no reason, with my personality, I would have ended up in pediatrics. Iâ€™m not the souvenir saver. Iâ€™m not a mushy person. So my personality is more of the pathologist. But I think God said I needed to be in this space.
Q: What are some of your favorite projects youâ€™ve worked on at the center?
A: When Iâ€™m working on anything, that becomes my favorite project. Right now, weâ€™re working on foster care and being able to make it better. Weâ€™re trying to see how you can take care of this very vulnerable population of kids, give them good care, try to give them opportunity and do it cost-effectively.
Iâ€™m really, at this point, fascinated how we can work with the state of Texas to see how we can actually get this population of kids some kind of continuity of care and not so much redundancy.
Q: How has South Texas Center for Pediatric Care changed since you founded it?
A: When we first started, it was about how many contacts could you make and still deliver quality.
Now I want to see how influential we can be, not just with the quality of the care you deliver but the way we deliver care. And Iâ€™m excited to be partnering with groups so we can work as a unit to address issues.
I like to see how medicine transitions. So I think Iâ€™d love to see the practice involved in a transition from being a volume-driven, a fee-for-service model to really just being a quality-outcomes kind of model and have more collaboration.
(We need) to have partners, because you canâ€™t make it without hospitals, and the hospitals need the private practice, and the patient obviously needs to have some responsibility. Everybody needs to be on the same team.