Surgeon dad, nurse son work together at Elgin hospital

  • Working in the same hospital was rough at first for this father and son at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, but now John and Dan Brems make a great team.

      Working in the same hospital was rough at first for this father and son at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, but now John and Dan Brems make a great team. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Surgeon John Brems and his son Dan, a nurse, say working together at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin has advantages for both of them.

      Surgeon John Brems and his son Dan, a nurse, say working together at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin has advantages for both of them. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • The only moments of tension come from the job itself, never from their relationship, John and Dan Brems said.

      The only moments of tension come from the job itself, never from their relationship, John and Dan Brems said. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/17/2017 7:35 AM

Surgeon John Brems had numerous qualms about his eldest son taking a job as an intensive care unit nurse at the Elgin hospital where he works.

Would it put too much pressure on his son? How would they handle working together? How would others?

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But Dan Brems figured he'd be OK at Advocate Sherman Hospital, a place he'd heard much good about, he said. "I was like, 'I can deal with this.'"

As it turns out, they were both right.

Five years into it, father and son make a great team at the hospital, where John, 62, of Gilberts, operates mainly on liver and pancreatic cancer patients and Dan, 34, of Lake in the Hills, takes care of those patients in recovery.

But the beginning was rough. The burden and awkwardness of being the surgeon's son added to the intensity of the job, and it was a lot to handle, Dan said.

"The first year or two, I went home hating myself, saying, 'I can't do this. This is so difficult, it's so challenging,'" he said. "It took me a couple of years to really getting comfortable."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And as an added bonus, Dan, just like his father, met his wife when she worked as a nurse in the ICU. "It worked out really well," he said laughing.

Growing up, Dan wasn't too interested in the medical profession.

He said he saw how demanding the job could be on his father, who started liver transplant programs in California, Missouri and Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago before joining Sherman in 2011.

So Dan got into law school, but he quickly realized his heart wasn't in it. He worked as a car salesman for a few years, then decided to go to nursing school, which immediately felt like the right path, he said.

"Nursing is an awesome profession," said Dan, who also works part time at Centegra Northern Illinois Medical Center in McHenry. "I always wanted to do something to help other people."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Working together has advantages for both, the Brems said.

Dan knows exactly how his father operates, which makes things smoother, and Dan's comfortable asking him frank questions, he said.

"As a nurse, I don't necessarily always get what the doctor is thinking. You sit there and you grumble, 'Why did he give me that order?'" he said. "With (my father), I get to ask him."

John said his son knows precisely what he expects and gives him firsthand information about what his patients are thinking and feeling.

"You hear things from families that you might not have heard," John said. "It makes you more cognizant of what's going on."

Staff members at the hospital have grown used to working with the father-and-son duo, they said.

His fellow surgeons have come to respect his son's skills and competence, John said. As for his fellow nurses, Dan said, they good-naturedly tease him about being the "favorite" but also happily delegate to him difficult 2 a.m. calls.

The only moments of tension come from the job, such as when patients take a turn for the worse, never from their relationship, they said.

Besides, they joked, they have been through the roughest part already -- Dan's teenage years. "He can't yell at me any worse than he did back then," Dan said.

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