Jessica R. Caruso '23, OMS-II | October 15, 2020
I sought out the five MU-COM alumni who matched into dermatology to learn more about how and why they chose to pursue this field. All five alumni agreed to answer my questions in hopes of helping students. Dr. Ben Farthing '17 and Dr. Sonya Zarkhin '17, both part of the first MU-COM graduating class, discussed the diverse nature of dermatology. From the class of 2018, Dr. Joseph Aleshaki and Dr. Robert Dazé highlighted the need for passion. Finally, Dr. Samantha Pfeifer '19 gave insight into the humanity of the profession.
What should students interested in dermatology be warned about?
Most interviews and articles focus on the good, wonderful aspects of medicine and certain specialties. However, I think it is just as valuable to know what the pitfalls of a certain career are. So, I asked, “What do you like least about dermatology?”
Dr. Dazé '18, DO: "I do not necessarily agree with the competitive nature of dermatology to the point of selecting candidates solely off of board scores. Ultimately, it feeds the stereotype and does not allow for a diversity of candidates to apply to the specialty. In terms of diversity, unfortunately, dermatology is one of the top two specialties lacking in diversity among those selected for the residency. I believe dermatology would benefit if we selected candidates of different backgrounds (racial minorities, LGBT, skin color, etc.) to celebrate the diversity not only of our specialty but of the diversity of our patients. One other dislike about the specialty is not necessarily about dermatology but about those physicians and medical professionals who market themselves as a dermatologist but lack the board certification and training. It is very common to see physicians of other specialties run or manage a medical spa or pursue a strictly cosmetic practice. I think it is unfair to the patient and somewhat unethical to market yourself as an expert in the field but lack the rigorous extensive training that is required of dermatologists. I have heard horror stories of non-dermatologist physicians who perform chemical peels or lasers on melanomas because they unknowingly mistook it for a common lentigo. This is medical malpractice and my ongoing fear for the specialty."
Dr. Zarkhin '17, DO: "Nothing. I love it all. I am very happy and very lucky."
Dr. Farthing '17, DO: "The majority of dermatology is amazing, but the part that I'm least interested in is the heavy board exam focus on non-clinically applicable information. Dermatology boards are notoriously difficult and will ask third and fourth-level questions in which knowing a gene name or protein mutation is necessary to get the right answer. These are things that 99% of dermatologists in non-academic settings will assuredly forget after finishing board certification."
|Dr. Aleshaki '18. DO: "Every specialty has a downside. As a student and even now as a resident, I do experience people in the field having a lack of humility. It is a competitive specialty to match into and it’s something to be very proud of but there are many incredibly intelligent and gifted clinicians in every specialty in medicine, not just dermatology."
|Dr. Pfeifer '19, DO: "Tough question! I think one hard thing is that you are required to see a lot of patients in short appointment times as an attending, which can make it tough to fully develop those patient relationships that I, personally, really enjoy."
What do you like most about dermatology?
As opposed to the last question about the negative aspects of dermatology, it is time to focus on the good and wonderful aspects. Knowing both the less desirable and the more exciting aspects of the career underscores why people choose such a competitive specialty.
Dr. Dazé '18, DO: "What I like most about dermatology is the breadth of the specialty. I can see patients of all ages, sexes, and skin colors. Furthermore, I am able to incorporate medical dermatology, surgical dermatology, cosmetics, and dermatopathology. The specialty is ever-growing, and thus dermatology supports a journey of lifelong learning."
|Dr. Zarkhin '17, DO: "Everything. I know that's a cliché answer, but when you find the right field for you, you (hopefully) will be saying the same."
|Dr. Farthing '17, DO: "As I said before, dermatology is great, so it's difficult to narrow it down. If I had to pick, however, I would say the mixed medical/procedural aspect is currently what I'm enjoying the most."
|Dr. Aleshaki '18, DO: "There is so much variety. I can see both young and old patients and do procedures daily. There is always a demand. I also enjoy being on the outpatient side of medicine more so than in the hospital. There is also so much research done in the field with new medications entering the market what seems to be every one to two years."
Dr. Pfeifer '19, DO: "I would say the impact you can make on people’s lives along with the patient continuity. You are truly in a unique place to make people feel like their best selves while also saving lives by treating skin cancers. You also have the ability to have a great family life yourself to spend quality time with your spouse/kids."
Unfortunately, some of the downsides mentioned (lack of diversity, focus on scores, and arrogance) did not surprise me. However, I was unaware of the rampant misrepresentation of physician-run medical spas that Dr. Dazé addressed. I appreciated the genuine concern the doctors have regarding these pitfalls.
As far as what they enjoyed most about dermatology, the variety of their answers seems to be the overwhelming response to this question. As a dermatologist, one can treat people of all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities; it includes diagnoses of various diseases, surgical procedures, and microscopic pathology. Additionally, Dr. Pfeifer underscored the psychological aspect of dermatology that allows patients to feel their very best.
Thank you to the alumni for their time!
These former MU-COM students provided me with a great deal of insight into the intricacies and challenges that accompany dermatology. I am grateful for the time they spent responding to me and answering my questions. What do MU-COM alumni have to say about dermatology residency? Be passionate. Do research. Persevere. Commit. Be unique. Take initiative.
About the author
Jessica Caruso is a second-year medical student at Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MU-COM). Prior to Marian, Jessica graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a minor in Spanish Language and Literature. As the Mental Wellness Chair at MU-COM, she promotes activities and events to help students unwind and fights to end the stigma against mental illness. Additionally, she serves as the treasurer for the Pediatric Student Interest Group, promoting adolescent and pediatric outreach and education. During the summer, she worked in the 3D-Visualization Laboratory to develop models, videos, and other projects that allow better education of anatomy to students, physicians, and patients. She volunteers as a Crisis Counselor at Crisis Text Line, helping people in crisis through active listening, collaborative problem solving, and safety planning. When she isn’t busy studying or volunteering, Jessica enjoys reading, kayaking, and playing games with friends.