Comment on “Analysis of Nail-Related Content of the Basic Dermatology Curriculum”



To the Editor:

In the April 2019 Cutis article by John and Lipner,1 the authors critiqued the American Academy of Dermatology Basic Dermatology Curriculum (BDC) for not providing an adequate scaffolding of nail findings on which dermatology residents can build their knowledge base; however, that criticism belies a misunderstanding of the BDC’s purpose. It was carefully designed to address the needs of undifferentiated medical students and primary care learners based on needs assessments from practicing primary care physicians and experienced dermatology educators.2,3 Given the limited amount of time to teach, a basic curriculum must focus on the most high-yield items. The BDC work group developed goals and objectives based on needs assessments for primary care practice with 38 core dermatology diagnoses, including 3 diagnoses with important nail findings: onychomycosis, melanoma, and psoriasis. Much repetition is built into the BDC, and the same diagnosis is used in multiple cases in different modules to encourage retention of information. Therefore, “analysis of nail-related content” should focus on diagnoses rather than cases, and for each diagnosis, note whether the nail findings are a pertinent negative or pertinent positive. In cases of the other 35 diagnoses covered in the BDC, nail findings are omitted for space because they are not relevant (eg, in cases of seborrheic dermatitis or rosacea). Normal nail findings are not pertinent negatives for most diagnoses in the BDC, except in cases with diagnoses for which psoriasis is in the differential, such as nummular dermatitis or pityriasis rosea.

Furthermore, a true analysis of the needs of medical students and primary care learners with regard to nail findings would begin with a needs assessment of the most common nail conditions evaluated in the primary care and urgent care settings. Ingrown nails, paronychia, onychomycosis, and subungual hematomas and other nail traumas are the most common nail conditions encountered in primary care and urgent care,4-10 but John and Lipner1 failed to perform analysis or needs assessment based on the incidence of nail diagnoses in these settings.

Other sources for medical students and primary care residents include excellent introductions to nail findings. The newly revised skin chapter of Bates’ Guide to Physical Examination and History Taking11 includes updated photographs of common nail findings and discusses the importance of examining nails in the full-body skin examination. Additionally, Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy,12Lookingbill and Marks’ Principles of Dermatology,13 and The Color Atlas and Synopsis of Family Medicine14 cover nail disease beautifully for medical students and primary care learners. The BDC was never meant to supplant these bountiful resources.

The authors referred to lack of confidence in nail diagnoses among dermatology residents,1 which is a very real problem that must be addressed by dermatology residency programs. The BDC is not the proper vehicle for training dermatology residents about these conditions; that is the responsibility and challenge of our dermatology residency programs. The authors also suggested teaching how to perform nail biopsies in the BDC.1 It not reasonable to expect that our primary care colleagues will be performing nail biopsies. A more appropriate level of expectation is that they would know when to refer patients to dermatology; for example, they should know that a pigmented streak on a single nail that is expanding is an indication for referral to a dermatologist.

If the authors or others were to propose an additional nail module to the BDC work group, they would need to include an analysis of the literature regarding the incidence of nail disease seen in primary care and urgent care settings rather than the nail conditions seen by referral bias experienced by consulting dermatologists. The analysis would be worth considering and worthy of the goodwill engendered by the creation of the BDC in the first place.


Patrick E. McCleskey, MD

From the Department of Dermatology, Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, California.

Dr. McCleskey previously served as Chair of the American Academy of Dermatology Basic Dermatology Curriculum Work Group (2013-2017) .

Correspondence: Patrick E. McCleskey, MD, 3701 Broadway, 4th Floor, Oakland, CA 94611 ([email protected]).


1. John JJ, Lipner SR. Analysis of nail-related content in the basic dermatology curriculum. Cutis. 2019;103:214-216.

2. Hansra NK, O’Sullivan P, Chen CL, et al. Medical school dermatology curriculum: are we adequately preparing primary care physicians? J Am Acad Dermatol. 2009;61:23-29.

3. McCleskey PE, Gilson RT, Devillez R. Medical student core curriculum in dermatology survey. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2009;61:30-35.

4. Vierhoeven EWM, Kraaimaat FW, van Wheel C, et al. Skin diseases in family medicine: prevalence and health care use. Ann Fam Med. 2008;6:349-354.

5. Fleisher AB, Herbert CR, Feldman SR, et al. Diagnosis of skin disease by non-dermatologists. Am J Manag Care. 2000;6;1149-1156.

6. Akbas A, Kilinc F, Yakut HI, et al. Nail disorders in children, a clinical study. Our Dermatol Online. 2016;7:149-154.

7. Nadkarni A, Domeisen N, Hill D, et al. The most common dermatology diagnoses in the emergency department. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;75:1261-1262.

8. Baibergenova A, Shear NH. Skin conditions that bring patients to emergency departments. Arch Dermatol. 2011;147:118-120.

9. Wang E, Lim BL, Than KY. Dermatological conditions presenting at an emergency department in Singapore. Singapore Med J. 2009;50:881-884.

10. Lai-Kwon J, Weiland TJ, Chong AH, et al. Which dermatological conditions present to an emergency department in Australia? Emerg Med Int. 2014;2014:463026.

11. McCleskey PE. The skin, hair, and nails. In: Bickley L, ed. Bates’ Guide to Physical Examination and History Taking. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2017:173-214.

12. Habif TP. Nail diseases. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 6th ed. China: Elsevier; 2016:960-985.

13. Marks JG, Miller JJ. Nail disorders. In: Marks JG, Miller JJ, eds. Lookingbill and Marks’ Principles of Dermatology. 6th ed. China: Elsevier; 2019:277-282.

14. Mayeaux EJ Jr, Williams J. Hair and nail conditions. In: Usatine RP, Smith MA, Mayeaux EJ Jr, et al. The Color Atlas and Synopsis of Family Medicine. 3rd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education; 2019.


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