Renata Block, MMS, PA-C, spearheaded a skin cancer screening event for veterans in her hometown.
In Renata Block's hometown 60 miles northwest of Chicago, there is a population of veterans in need of dermatologic care. Their nearest VA hospital is a 45-minute drive and not convenient for consistent, much-needed skin screenings. Block is a physician assistant at Advanced Dermatology & Aesthetic Medicine in Chicago, Illinois and volunteers with her hometown's Polish Legion of American Veterans. When she learned about the struggle of many veterans to drive and get the skin screenings they need, she brought the service and educational materials to them.
Dermatology Times®: Tell us about the skin screening event you spearheaded over the weekend.
Renata Block: I proposed a skin cancer screening during Skin Cancer Awareness Month, which I was happy to do last Saturday. We had such a great turnout. We have a lot of veterans throughout the United States. I grew up in this small town, and I decided to give back to the community. The nearest VA hospital or VA facility is about 45 minutes away. So, we offered this skin cancer screening to our veterans in the area, but also local residents with the veterans—obviously having the priority of being seen. The scary part of it is none of them had an established dermatologist.
The last time someone [who attended the event] had seen a dermatologist was 5 years ago, and they had a diagnosis of melanoma at that time. So they were not getting annual screening, as suggested. Then, when a patient is diagnosed with melanoma, we have to see them sooner. So 3 or 4 times a year is suggested and that person never went back. I saw 20 patients and it was our first event like this. I was very pleased because it allowed me about 10 minutes per patient. Since it was the first screening event, we didn't know if people were going to come or feel comfortable showing and sharing their intimate areas with me in regards to their skincare habits or even told me they don't have a dermatologist. It's like, "Oh, I think I should have one." They knew they had to have one. The response from me was, "It's okay. Thanks for sharing that with me. Let's educate you and give you the information needed."
The Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) provided all these amazing handouts. Neutrogena was also a sponsor, we gave out sunscreens, and they provided information. So these people walked out well-informed, and that is a great accomplishment.
Dermatology Times: What was your marketing strategy for this event?
Block: I've been part of the community. I grew up there. I now live 60 miles away. But like I said, I'm part of the ladies auxilary. I go to regular meetings. So, I've been introducing myself in the past year, and just sprinkling advice in regards to skincare, and the interest was there. I proposed this skin cancer screening, we also did some blood pressure screening. I think it's a vulnerable thing to do for someone to come into a skin cancer screening and thinking they have to get completely undressed. I think it turns out to be something that you have to just educate and give them the insight of what to prepare for.
So, we posted on social media. We posted posters throughout the community. We really allowed patients to pick their concerns [upon intake]. Filling out the forms and letting us know what bothered them, I think, was the first step to opening up the door and then having a candid discussion of, "Well, this is fine, but you might have something else. Let's check your back. Let's check your arms. You know, let's check your hands." Then at the end of the exam, they're asking about something on their legs or lower back. So, it really kind of opened that dialogue for comfort.
Dermatology Times: Are there resources to make skin screening events easier to plan?
Block: When you do a skin cancer screening, you know, of course as a health care professional, you have to be protected as well, with HIPAA and everything like that, the MRF is a organization near and dear to my heart. I've been volunteering with them for many years. They provided the forms to be filled out so we have the proper foundation to conduct these skin exams. So that being said, that was very helpful in regards to logistics of planning and making sure as a professional that we are protected.
Dermatology Times: What were your big takeaways from this event?
Block: My big takeaways were really the eye-opening statistics of veterans in rural areas and nobody having a board-certified dermatologist or seeing a dermatology PA or NP for their skin exams on a regular basis. The other thing was the lack of education of sun safety and the risk factors of developing a skin cancer pretty much did not exist.
I think as a health care professional—a board-certified dermatologist, a derm PA, a derm NP—we we need to get out there. This is our job to get out there because it was an eye-opening event to these individuals. And really, to me as a practitioner, thinking, "Wow, I think everybody knows about sun safety," and they really don't. I think creating awareness is on the forefront for all of us.
Transcript edited for clarity