Commentary: Words fail to describe unique specialty of dermatology

March 1, 2008

As chairman of the American Academy of Dermatology pamphlets committee, one of my first responsibilities was to rework the pamphlet "You and Your Dermatologist."

Key Points

As chairman of the American Academy of Dermatology pamphlets committee, one of my first responsibilities was to rework the pamphlet "You and Your Dermatologist."

I thought it would be an easy pamphlet to revise, since I should certainly know what to say. Why, I have been a dermatologist for 20 years!

I was given several pamphlets, developed by professional societies for other specialties, to review.

The brochure was black and white, with a single background color of pea green.

No, this would not do. Dermatology is definitely not black and white and pea green.

While the pamphlets from the other societies were all well-written, they somehow did not convey the passion I think most dermatologists have for our specialty.

I think the passion of dermatologists is best illustrated at our medical meetings.

When I attend a meeting with my husband, a gastroenterologist, everyone walks through the halls silently, wearing dark pants and light-colored shirts. The event is serious and solemn.

Not so in dermatology. There is constant activity in the halls, with old friends catching up on where life has gone since the last meeting. Ideas are shared and the enthusiasm in the lecture hall is contagious. Everyone dresses in his or her own unique style, usually with the latest fashion.

Meetings for dermatologists are a time of learning in a social environment.

Dermatologists are generally outgoing, affable people, who really have something interesting to say on a variety of topics.

I also think dermatologists enjoy speaking with their patients. Since our patients are not typically very ill, we can share lively conversation and catch up on family developments.

Many patients are seen on a yearly basis for skin cancer evaluations or atypical nevi exams, so an office visit is a time to renew a friendship and make sure the skin is in good health.

We also have the privilege of taking care of whole families, from the newborn child to grandma. Very few physicians have this type of lifelong relationship with their patients.

I think the chance to see children grow to young adults and on into parenthood is one of the really rewarding parts of being a dermatologist.

As I was putting these ideas together, I realized that dermatology is one of the few generalist specialties left in medicine.

After careful consideration, I have decided that a pamphlet could not possibly be colorful enough, expansive enough or innovative enough to capture the essence of dermatology.

No, dermatology cannot be adequately described in a tri-fold brochure. It is just doesn't fit on a sheet of paper!