A glimpse into the evolution of dermatology

January 30, 2019

The specialty of dermatology has a relatively short, but rich history filled with many fascinating and passionate individuals who have shaped its development. This article celebrates those individuals.

The specialty of dermatology has a relatively short, but rich history filled with many fascinating and passionate individuals who have shaped its development. While the path to the establishment of the specialty has woven across continents and centuries, American dermatology has been said to have begun under Henry Daggett Bulkley in the early 1800s when he opened the Broome Street Infirmary for Diseases of the Skin in New York. After also developing a series of lectures and courses on skin disease, he became known as the first to educate on dermatology as well as the first practitioner of the specialty.

Around the same time, Noah Worcester, who was pursuing his medical education in the United States, ventured to Europe to learn the arts of pathology and dermatology. He came back to America where he became chair of general pathology, physical diagnosis and diseases of the skin in the newly founded medical department of the Western Reserve College at Cleveland. He published the first complete textbook on American skin diseases and was considered a leader in pathology, percussion and auscultation.

In the late 1800s, James C. White became the first chair in dermatology, the American Dermatological Association was founded and the first dispensary and hospital for patients with skin disease and skin cancer opened. From this point forward, there have been many more founders, researchers and innovators. The timeline below only tells a fraction of the story.

Of all of the many insights into the physicians who paved the way, the thread that seems to weave through each story is spun by fibers of high intelligence, extraordinary dedication and a remarkable compassion. Each one was fervently devoted to the continuing scientific study of dermatology, a high degree of proficiency in practice, and was reportedly held in very high regard by fellow colleagues for their contributions to the discipline as well as their humanity toward contemporaries.

It is with excitement and awe that we have established this Dermatology Hall of Fame to recognize such physician pioneers. We hope you’ll join us February 28 in Washington, D.C., to learn more about their contributions and influences on the dermatology specialty.

Timeline of the rise of dermatology in America during the 1800s (click to enlarge)

Reference:
Bechet PE. The Early History of American Dermatology. Arch Derm Syphilol. 1942;45(3):482-505.