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Healthy You

Up Close With John P. Erwin, M.D.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021 1:30 PM

When your career choice in college wavers between a doctor or a Dallas Cowboy, you stand out. We are fortunate that John P. Erwin, III, MD Chair, Department of Medicine, and a cardiologist with the Cardiovascular Institute, chose medicine.

Read more about how this former standout football player-turned-physician continues to make an impression.

Dr. John Erwin

You were born and raised in Texas and that’s where you raised your family. Why did you decide to move to snowy Illinois?
I was not looking for a job, but when the job came looking for me, I was thrilled with the opportunity to lead another innovative group in a competitive market. My family and I had always listed Chicagoland as one of our favorite areas to visit over the years, but never dreamed that we’d have the opportunity to live here and to help grow such an outstanding healthcare organization like NorthShore. Also, I had trained my successor back in Texas and I knew that she would never push to advance with me there. I saw this as a wonderful opportunity both for her and for me!

And, the last time we spoke, you didn’t have your Texas drawl. Where did it go?
I can speak Upper Midwest, Midwest, Southern, and Tex-Mex fluently. I turn on the Texas drawl when it fits, and/or after spending some time on my ranch in Texas. Between training in Minnesota at the Mayo Clinic and growing up most of my life in Texas, I think that my base accent ended up somewhere in southern Kansas!

Why did you pick cardiology for your specialty?
When I started medical school, I thought that I’d be an orthopedic surgeon in part due to my many experiences while playing football and being on the patient side of that equation. While I really liked surgery, I found orthopedics at that time too mundane and realized that I really loved critical care and continuity of care. After a brief foray into consideration of doing OB/reproductive endocrinology, I fell in love with the new diagnostic and therapeutic modalities that were emerging in the cardiovascular field. Beyond that, it gave me full exposure to all settings in medicine. There is nothing more satisfying than caring for a patient on the brink of death in the ED/ICU, stabilizing and treating them, and then having years and years of continuity in following them up with their families in my clinic. Cardiology still has the coolest “toys”, too!

What is the most exciting upcoming development in cardiology at NorthShore?
There are too many to mention them all. We have world-class talent ranging from preventative cardiology to imaging to heart failure to structural/interventional cardiology. The exciting parts are our people and watching them develop and utilize their talents for the good of our patients. We have leaders in our cardiology group in all the major subspecialties that work well in this incredible integrated system. 

What is one thing you wish patients would know about their hearts?
Proverbs 4:23 states, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it!”  It is important to eat prudently and exercise regularly in order to ideally protect the heart.  Beyond that, controlling stress and some of the unhealthy consequences of stress (depression, tobacco use, and alcohol abuse) are equally important. Make sure to keep up to date with your doctors regarding your most important numbers: weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, exercise minutes, and ZERO nicotine!

If you’ve got a family history of heart disease, it makes it even more acutely imperative to get those numbers in line. 

Never disregard symptoms that could have a cardiac etiology, such as skipped heartbeats, unusual shortness of breath, fainting spells, chest/back/upper limb discomfort, or sudden weakness, numbness or loss of vision.

On a more personal note, what is one thing you will never do again?  
I will never, ever ride a bull again­-whether it be a real one or a mechanical one!  

Listen to our conversation with Dr. Erwin!