More Than Skin Deep
Sunlight shined through the front windows, the aroma of coffee filled the air, and the low hum of my laptop echoed in our small office. Personal photos hung above our desks and sticky note reminders were pasted on each of our computers. I shared an office with another medical assistant, a nurse, and our dermatologist. I would often peruse our schedule in the quiet hours of the morning, jotting down notes about each patient and creating my to-do-list.
A young woman with chronic acne that had tried countless treatments with no success.
A 40-something gentleman following-up for treatment of bacterial folliculitis.
A middle-aged woman establishing care for treatment of psoriasis that had been present for years.
Many other patients lined our schedule, but my eyes were drawn to these particular patients. The primary reason – social stigma and how it undoubtedly had impacted their lives.
Typically, when people think of a dermatologist they think of the doctor that passes Botox out like candy, and provides chemical peels and other ways to make individuals appear young and vibrant. Although that may be true in some cases, that was not the primary focus of our clinic. We predominantly served individuals for skin cancer screenings and treatment for acne, psoriasis, dermatitis, and other skin conditions. It was a rare day that I did not meet an individual who had been personally impacted by the social repercussions of having a skin condition.
In the case of the young woman with chronic acne – my heart broke.
This beautiful woman with medium-length hair, hazel eyes, and an outdoorsy style sat slumped in an exam room chair. Her handshake was weak and she had a delicateness to her voice as she spoke, rarely making eye contact. She had suffered with acne for over ten years and had pitting scarring and cystic acne scattered across her jawline. This young woman had struggled with maintaining relationships and self-confidence for years as a result of her acne. When asked about the social impact of her condition, her eyes welled up with tears and the subject quickly transitioned.
The gentleman sat down in dress clothes with a high collar and a flat cap that did not quite match the rest of his attire. The man had a brashness about him. He worked in construction management and after we delved into his life a bit deeper, he divulged that he often felt embarrassed to attend meetings due to the presence of folliculitis on his scalp, neck, and chest. He admitted that he struggled to find balance in his behavior due to feeling inadequate as a result of his skin condition.
The woman with psoriasis had a lovely, eclectic style. She wore long, loose sleeves with bright color. She had had psoriasis for many years so she had found various ways to feel beautiful without exposing her skin, but she shared how the first several years with the condition had been the most difficult. People used to gaze from near and far at her “contagious,” “infected,” “gross” skin condition. She soon began covering the rashes, which are not contagious and rarely become infected. She had to hide herself to feel accepted by society; to feel beautiful. This lovely woman recently had acquired insurance and was going on a cruise the following summer. She wanted help managing her psoriasis so she could enjoy her vacation and not be met by uneducated stares while she wore her swimsuit on deck.
These individuals had suffered for years with treatable skin conditions that had significantly impacted their ability to thrive. I had the opportunity to be part of each of their care teams and it was inspiring to see these individuals transform over the coming months.
The young woman’s acne nearly disappeared and the glow in her eyes and smile soon reflected that of her clear skin.
The gentleman walked into our office in a bit of a rush, always getting ready for his next meeting and never with his hat in hand, which he had initially used to cover his scalp while in public.
The woman with psoriasis wore short-sleeve tees and shorts when she visited, revealing those aspects of her body that she had not in years.
Dermatology is so much more than Botox, chemical peels, and helping individuals to appear young and vibrant.
This field of medicine enables physicians and their team members to significantly improve the quality of life in their patients, coaching individuals through confidence building and finding the beauty within themselves.
Our communities need more education about common skin conditions and the impact that they may have on the individual with the disease. We need to educate our communities about the common non-contagious conditions for a better understanding and to dispel misconceptions. My goal is to host community education nights about skin diseases to promote understanding and instill confidence throughout the Yakima Valley and in all locations of my future practice.
Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd Year (OMS II)
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences