On the right foot

July 1, 2007

Even though he has not yet launched his dermatology career, Craig Burkhart, M.D., is already making his mark in the profession.

The third-year dermatology resident at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC), earned the American Academy of Dermatology's Member Making a Difference Award earlier this year for his work with the indigent. He says he was inspired to help the less fortunate by watching his father, dermatologist Craig G. Burkhart, M.D., of Sylvania, Ohio.

Following in dad's footsteps

During his second year of residency at Chapel Hill, the young dermatologist helped to set up the dermatology section of the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC), an organization that offers free clinics for indigent patients in North Carolina's Triangle area. It started as a once-a-month free dermatology clinic. Under the direction of David Grekin, M.D., an attending physician at UNC, and David Pascoe, M.D., M.P.H., a co-resident, the clinic was expanded to twice monthly, offering a range of services, from clinical exams to biopsies and surgeries.

Reaching out

Dr. Burkhart says he, his co-residents and attending physicians could not stand by, knowing there were people in the community who were not getting dermatologic care because they could not afford it.

"Attendings and residents go to the free clinic after we are done with our residency work and see about 15 to 20 patients every time we go," Dr. Burkhart says. "I am inspired by the dedication and support of my co-residents and attendings. ... These people are much busier than me and still dedicate their time to this clinic. Even our chairman (Luis Diaz, M.D.) volunteers at the clinic!"

The patients who present to the free clinic are those who cannot afford routine specialty services. The indigent patients often have more advanced illness, which exposes the young physicians to things they might not otherwise see in their training, such as leishmaniasis, bed bugs and advanced cancers.

"It is amazing to see how people delay treatment because they cannot pay," Dr. Burkhart says.

The dermatologist remembers an indigent woman, in particular. A local social worker noticed that the woman had a big ulcer on her nose and referred her to the free clinic.

"She avoided care because she thought doctors would take away all her belongings," Dr. Burkhart says. "Since the services were free, she agreed to be seen at the clinic. We did a biopsy, diagnosed her with squamous cell carcinoma, arranged her for surgery, and she no longer has the cancer. "

UNC residents work alongside medical students who volunteer at the clinic, which exposes them to the important work of dermatologists, Dr. Burkhart says.

Groomed to be a derm

The young Dr. Burkhart says he briefly resisted going into dermatology, thinking he might become an internist.

But growing up around his father and his father's dermatologist friends showed him the positive impact good dermatologic care has on people's lives.

"I was very fortunate to have such a great mentor growing up," he says.

In addition to recognizing Dr. Burkhart at its February annual meeting, the American Academy of Dermatology awarded him a grant to attend the Brazilian Society of Dermatology Annual Meeting in fall 2007.

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