Incoming AAD president looks long-range

Jan 01, 2005, 5:00am

Incoming AAD president looks long-range

Dermatology is in Clay J. Cockerell's blood.

Dr. Cockerell is the incoming 2005 president of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). He will be installed at the AAD's annual Academy next month in New Orleans.

Different back then Until Earl Rush retired in his late 80s and Earl Grafton retired at age 65, young Clay worked in the practice his grandfather and father ran throughout his middle and high school years, helping with simple tasks, like cutting gauze. While the practice did not offer cosmetic procedures, per se, he assisted his father and grandfather during dermabrasion procedures on occasion.

The elder Cockerells treated mostly skin cancer cases. Farmers from surrounding rural communities would sometimes travel well over 100 miles for treatment.

"They used to use X-ray treatment for a lot of their skin cancers," Dr. Cockerell says. "They really did not do excisional surgery back then, but would rather do a desiccation and curettage procedure and then put a radium needle on the cancerous area, They would put the patients who had radium treatments in a room with lead in the walls. Once, a patient walked out of the office with a radium needle on and another time the needle fell off from a patient's nose while he was sitting in the lead-lined room. I remember everyone was looking frantically for the live piece of radioactive material before it was found."

Another dermatologist honed Like most teenagers, Dr. Cockerell questioned whether he would follow so closely in the family footsteps. He said he had an aptitude for the sciences and wanted to become a doctor, but he toyed with becoming a surgeon - a thought he abandoned one day on the golf course.

"My father and I were playing in a father-son golf tournament, when I was about 15 or 16. Another father and son were playing ahead of us. The father suddenly just dropped dead on the golf green in front of us. He went down like a ton of bricks," Dr. Cockerell says. "One of the other guys in the tournament was a thoracic surgeon and he came over and did all the intubation and went with the patient to the hospital. When it was all over, my father said, 'See that's why you don't want to be a surgeon.'"

During medical school, Dr. Cockerell was contemplating careers in OB/Gyn, pediatrics, dermatology and internal medicine. But lectures at Baylor College of Medicine on dermatology and dermatopathology convinced him that dermatology really was his calling.

"I really liked the idea of correlating the way things looked clinically to the way they looked under the microscope," he says.

Dr. Cockerell went on to graduate from Baylor. That, too, was a legacy in this family of doctors.

"My great grandfather and his cousin were in the first graduating class in Baylor College back in the early 1900s," Dr. Cockerell says. "My father and grandfather also went to Baylor."

He graduated medical school with honors and went on to complete dermatology training at New York University. He then studied dermatopathology with Dr. Bernard Ackerman.