Latest group of young dermatologists appears poised to carry speciality into future

March 1, 2010

I had two pretty amazing experiences during the month of January that provided me an enormous amount of pleasure and happiness. Both experiences dealt with what I believe is the amazing new generation of dermatologists that will carry our specialty into the future.

Key Points

Both experiences dealt with what I believe is the amazing new generation of dermatologists that will carry our specialty into the future. I'd like to relate these experiences here in the hopes that they will provide you with a similar level of joy.

The state of residencies

It's a very difficult task trying to select those applicants who might fit best with our training program from such a huge number of well-qualified individuals. Most are highly ranked in their medical schools' classes. All have tremendous letters of recommendation from their professors. Some have performed basic research and have published their findings in medical journals.

Many have also achieved success in activities outside of medicine, such as being a nationally ranked tennis player, a professional rodeo bull rider, a deacon in a church, a Boy Scout troop leader or a member of a rock band. However, most importantly, nearly all of these individuals have also somehow found time to be active in various health-related activities.

It's this level of volunteerism that is perhaps the most emotionally rewarding to me. At first, I believed these activities were being done merely for "show" - an addition to the curriculum vitae that someone suggested might "look good" on their résumés. However, after speaking with these applicants (many of whom have been doing these volunteer activities for years), I'm convinced that their efforts are "real." I believe their actions provide proof that they feel a moral obligation to try to improve the quality of health in their communities by educating primary and secondary school students on the dangers of using tobacco products or illicit drugs, having unprotected sex, and even using tanning beds or sustaining unprotected sunlight exposure.

Many in our most recent group of applicants are also providing much-needed basic medical services - under proper supervision - to the underserved people of their local communities. Some of these applicants even perform these activities in places outside of the United States, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Kenya and Peru.

I'm convinced that if I had to compete against most of these candidates for a dermatology training position, there is simply no way I would succeed.

They are smarter, better prepared, more diverse and more eager to volunteer their time and energies to help others than I ever was at their age. They make me proud of their generation. In turn, their activities assure me that they will successfully carry the specialty of dermatology that I love so much into the future.

Volunteerism at its best

The second extraordinary experience I had in January was to participate in the American Academy of Dermatology's Academic Dermatologic Leadership and Future Dermatology Leaders Training Programs held in Paradise Valley, Ariz.

The first of these two distinct and different programs comprises a small group of carefully selected academic dermatologists who are at an early point in their academic careers. These individuals are matched with a mentor of their choice for an extensive yearlong learning opportunity.

This program is designed to provide young individuals in academic dermatology positions with the knowledge, tools and insight to succeed in their academic careers. This requires a significant amount of dedicated reading time, numerous conference calls, and meetings with their mentors and others in their group to discuss the issues that help define success in academics.

The second of these consecutive educational programs, which is now entering its 10th year, comprises a larger group of dermatologists, generally selected but not limited to physicians from private practice settings.

These people are early in their professional careers and eager to learn the skills necessary to become effective leaders in organized medicine.

This group is given instruction in a wide range of topics, including how to become involved in the organizational structure of a professional medical organization; be an effective member of a committee; prepare for a media (magazine, radio or television) interview; organize an agenda for a conference call or committee meeting; become a more effective public speaker; and work as a team member while understanding the organizational structure of the AAD and its role in education, research and politics.

I was deeply impressed by both of these groups of young, enthusiastic and talented dermatologists, all of whom were attending these meetings with a desire to serve their communities as well as the specialty of dermatology. They all demonstrated eagerness and a strong desire to lead our specialty into the future through academic leadership and leadership in their local, regional or national dermatology specialty organizations.

With the quality of the individuals I encountered in both of these groups, I am convinced that the successful future of the specialty of dermatology is ensured.

These talented, dedicated physicians are destined to become the future teachers and future leaders for the specialty of dermatology. From these two experiences, I feel absolutely certain that our specialty is in good hands.

Ronald G. Wheeland, M.D., is chief of dermatologic surgery, Department of Dermatology, University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.