Written by Dr. Paul M. Graham
For many, the perception of a doctor is one that is under extreme stress trying to manage twenty plus patients with alarms dinging, people yelling, and machines churning in the chaotic background. This Hollywood depiction of medicine is far from accurate and only representative of a handful of practice settings within our medical profession. As many TV series and movies continue to paint a picture of the unending drama, sex, stress, unethical behavior, and patient care disasters, I am here to shed light on a more realistic view to what I do as a doctor on a daily basis.
Most of you already know that I am a dermatologist, but may not be aware of the long, enduring path it took to get here. The majority of patients think of a dermatologist as a doctor who deals mostly with acne, cysts, and rashes, but this only scratches the surface of what we actually do. Dermatology is one of those specialties that you are required to know “a lot about a lot“. To elaborate on this, there are over 3000 different dermatological conditions that we have to be familiar with in diagnosis, treatment, and management. A misdiagnosis or poor management of specific dermatologic diseases can be disastrous and may eventually lead to death in some cases. For this exact reason, it is now easier to understand the breadth of what we do.
The life of a dermatologist is far from easy, but I will say that this is one of the more enjoyable and “happy” specialties in medicine. In a single day, dermatologists see more patients than most other types of doctors due to the low acuity of the majority of patient appointments. Furthermore, dermatology is a procedure-oriented specialty that offers a lot more procedures than most in medicine. Whether it be biopsies, acne extractions, curettage, botox/filler injections, laser surgery, skin excisions, sclerotherapy, liquid nitrogen cryosurgery, chemical peels, body contouring procedures, or incision and drainage, dermatologists thoroughly enjoy this side of our specialty.
When I was a medical student, I always knew that I wanted to go into a medical specialty that offered variety rather than redundancy. As I navigated through the vast complexities of surgery, emergency medicine, anesthesiology, ENT (ear/nose/throat), plastic surgery, urology, and interventional radiology, I found myself lacking the excitement and vision of myself practicing one of these specialties day in and day out. Over the last several months of my third year as a medical student, I became confused and let down by my swaying decisions on what I wanted to do. I knew I loved talking to patients, but I also wanted to be involved in the diagnosis, management, and treatment of these patients. Most specialties do not have the ability to play a role in all three of these aspects of patient care, but I knew I would find one. It wasn’t until my last month of being a third-year medical student that I realized dermatology was that specialty. Having the ability to diagnose and cure cancer on the same day, solidified my passion to pursue this desire. As an osteopathic physician, it is very important to look at patients as a “whole” and treat the entire person rather than focusing on a specific symptom or complaint. I believe this philosophy of medicine pushed me into dermatology as the skin may sometimes be the first presenting sign of an internal disease.
Growing up with three brothers, I have always possessed a competitive nature and this has been both good and bad as I progressed through my medical training. After realizing that dermatology was where I wanted to be, I immediately committed to making this happen. As few people know, dermatology is one of the most competitive specialties in medicine today and I knew this would be one of the biggest challenges that I would face in my life thus far…