Frederick D. Burroughs, M.D.
For over 41 years Frederick D. Burroughs, M.D. personified the physician everyone hopes to have: caring, compassionate, skilled, and trusted.
The first board-eligible African American pediatrician in Raleigh, he demonstrated an unwavering commitment and dedication to all of his patients regardless of wealth, race, or zip code. Burroughs’ path to medicine took some detours. A New Jersey native, Burroughs’ plans for college after high school were put on hold when a fire destroyed his family’s home two days after Christmas his senior year.
“I remember my dad looking at me and saying, son, there goes your college,” he said.
After two years of working odd jobs and saving money, Burroughs was able to finally resume the pursuit of his dream of becoming a pediatrician. He enrolled at Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, in Virginia. While there, he met Geraldine Harris, the woman who would become his life-long partner. He completed requirements for his bachelor’s degree in chemistry 1954.
In 1955, Burroughs was called to active duty in the United States Army to fulfill his ROTC requirement and continue his training as an anti-aircraft artillery officer. With marriage approaching, he extended his active-duty service time to allow his income to become more stable.
By this time, he had been accepted as an alternate for the class to enter Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN, in the fall of 1956. He asked that his alternate acceptance be placed in abeyance due to his extension in service.
Soon after his extension in service, Burroughs was assigned to a course at Fort Sill, OK, with combined orders to overseas deployment to Germany upon his completion. His new bride would join him within two months of his deployment, following her graduation from Boston University with a master’s degree in education.
Completing his extended enlistment, Burroughs returned to the United States to pursue his dream and with consideration of his previous acceptance, enrolled in Meharry.
The first year was extremely difficult, as seven years in the military had gotten him out of the rhythm of studying and academics. He persisted and thrived, developing his skills and affirming his passion for pediatrics.
“I hope young people will take from my experience that they should not let obstacles they encounter along their path to success, impede their endeavors,” he said. “I especially want to encourage the youngsters who would think about medicine, not to allow themselves to be discouraged by things that happen.”
After finishing his degree and residency, Burroughs and his family moved in 1969 to Raleigh, his wife’s hometown.
His practice quickly gained a far-reaching reputation for equality and quality of care. Parents brought their children from throughout eastern North Carolina. The practice served many families who struggled to provide health care or to find dollars needed for payments.
“I had patients who would come from the eastern part of the state and they would bring me venison or vegetables,” Burroughs said. “If people couldn’t get to me, I would occasionally make house calls. There were a lot of things that wouldn’t necessarily happen now, but back then, that was just medicine.”
Burroughs also worked hard to attract other young African-American physicians in differing specialties to the area. In 1977, he and several of his recruits co-founded Sunnybrook Multispecialty Medical Center, a stand-alone medical facility that provided services for Raleigh and surrounding communities for over 27 years. He also joined the Rex Hospital medical staff in 1977 as its first African American physician and remained affiliated there until his retirement in 2011.
Burroughs’ influence reached beyond his pediatric patients and North Carolina’s African-American community. In the mid-eighties, he was invited to join the University of North Carolina School of Medicine as an adjunct professor in the Department of Pediatrics. Teaching medical students, interns, residents, and nurses, he held the position for 15 years. While making rounds on patients, aspiring doctors found him to be a demanding mentor who continually sought excellence in training and practice.
Burroughs has received numerous professional awards. In 2003, the North Carolina Pediatric Society awarded him the David T. Tayloe Senior Award for outstanding community service. Following his retirement, the school of medicine presented him the Living Legend Award in 2015. In 2017, Dr. Burroughs was privileged to join the school’s roster of distinguished lecturers as the 2017 Zollicoffer Symposium Lecturer. In 2017, he was one of two individuals recognized by the UNC Medical School Alumni and Faculty with the Distinguished Service Award.
Burroughs’ caring continues to echo in the community. It is common for former patients to approach him to reminisce about the care they received. Many physicians, including ones now teaching a new generation of doctors, continue to rely on lessons in building trust with families which they learned at his side.
His profession was medicine but his greatest impact was in inspiring, educating, and encouraging people.
By Cassandra Talabi