Noah's mark: Elite derm organization celebrates 50 years

Jun 01, 2008, 4:00am

Fifty years ago, in April 1958, dermatology leaders gathered for the first meeting of the Noah Worcester Dermatological Society. The society still thrives today as a small-but-prestigious, invitation-only organization that many dermatologists don't even know exists.

Key Points

National report - Fifty years ago, in April 1958, dermatology leaders gathered for the first meeting of the Noah Worcester Dermatological Society. The society still thrives today as a small-but-prestigious, invitation-only organization that many dermatologists don't even know exists.

A Noah Worcester member since 1966, dermatologist Stuart M. Brown, M.D., who practices in Dallas, says he has missed only three annual meetings in more than four decades.

"Noah is my extended family," Dr. Brown says. "A significant number of these people have been to my home, and I have been to theirs."

"The membership is selectively limited to assure intimacy and the high academic standards of the scientific program."

The national society is named for Noah Worcester, author of the first American textbook on dermatology, published in 1845. Annual meetings have been held every year since 1958.

Dr. Brown, a clinical professor in the department of dermatology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, says Noah members include some of the finest practitioners in the country, both academic and nonacademic.

Member Peter S. Halperin, M.D., a dermatologist and assistant professor in the department of dermatology, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, says the collegial atmosphere results in a willingness to help fellow derms when they have questions about science or practice.

"You get to know members; you get to know their families and about their practices and what they specialize in. So, if you have questions about how you do something in your practice - whether it be medical or in terms of procedures or billing - there is always somebody there that you would feel comfortable asking, because you know them from seeing them year after year," Dr. Halperin tells Dermatology Times.

Small, but strong

Today, the Noah Worcester Dermatological Society has 140 regular members; 69 senior members (those who have presented at least three papers, reached the age of 65, or who practice less than 500 hours per year); and 51 senior emeritus members (those who have retired from dermatology), according to Michael Greenberg, M.D., secretary/treasurer of the society and a dermatologist practicing in Elk Grove, Ill.

Membership is by invitation only. To become a member, a dermatologist must be certified by the American Board of Dermatology; must be sponsored by two Noah members, who write letters on his or her behalf; must have contributed in some way to the profession; and must be in good standing in practice and in the community.

Those who get into the society must participate, presenting an original paper to the society within three years of attaining membership, and at least once every six years thereafter.

Dr. Brown almost did not get into Noah some 40 years ago, because he did not want to give presentations. But once he gave in, he says, he found the experience was not as unpleasant as he had expected.

"It did not hurt, and I did not pass out," he jokes. "Listening to more and more (of my peers' presentations), I became more proficient."

The society is rich in leadership, according to Dr. Greenberg, who claims that it is almost impossible to find a president of the American Academy of Dermatology who is not or has not been a member.

But he points out that being "elite" does not mean being "elitist." Not only is the society a think-tank for top practitioners, but it is also welcoming and embracing of others.

Douglas Robins, M.D., a dermatologist practicing in Jacksonville, Fla., has been a Noah member for four years, and says he felt like part of the family from the start.

"I have been to three meetings now and, the first time I went, there was a committee just to orient the new members," Dr. Robins says.

"I thought the spirit of friendliness and openness was somewhat unique. You are at the meeting for close to a week, so you get to meet people, and there's a certain camaraderie and collegiality. You want to contribute to that if you can," he says.