Diversification of dermatology workforce takes shape


Stephanie Florez-Pollack, MD, a dermatology resident at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, began considering the field of dermatology when, as part of the Latino Medical Students Association, she was invited by Amit Pandya, MD, to a pizza party and dermatology discussion during her first year of medical school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.

Courtesy Dr. Stephanie Flores-Pollack

Dr. Stephanie Flores-Pollack

There, she met three Latinx residents who were part of the University of Texas Southwestern dermatology program. “I was so excited to hear their stories, where they came from, and how they ended up in dermatology,” she said. Dermatology had not been on her radar screen. Now there was a spark.

Volunteering at the free Agape dermatology clinic in Dallas later that year sharpened her interest. “For the first time, I really saw myself working in the field. Hearing patients’ stories and what they went through with what many people might think are very simple skin diseases made me realize there was potential to make a big impact in a person’s life,” said Dr. Florez-Pollack, who immigrated from Colombia with her family when she was 15.

Dr. Florez-Pollack’s journey into dermatology as an underrepresented-in-medicine (UIM) physician-in-training offers a window into a movement underway that aims to create a diverse dermatology workforce – one that reflects the ethnic and racial make-up of the population. It’s a movement that involves early outreach to medical students, stepped-up mentorship and sponsorship, implicit bias training, and holistic review of residency applicants.

Dr. Nada Elbuluk

There is no published study of all the changes being made – of how many dermatology programs have new outreach programs, for instance, or new approaches to resident application reviews. However, participation in the American Academy of Dermatology Diversity Champions program increased significantly between 2019 and 2020, and a sizable body of articles and editorials on diversity have been published in the dermatology literature in recent years, including at least several on holistic review of resident applications. Five years ago, there were few publications, sources said.

“The conversation is happening now at multiple levels, including in our peer-reviewed literature, where people are looking objectively at ... how we can make changes for the better,” said Nada Elbuluk, MD, director of the dermatology diversity and inclusion program at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Dr. Kanade Shinkai

Unpublished findings also indicate that the number of UIM dermatology residents is inching upward. “Residency selection may not be on everyone’s mind, but an understanding of how we select people into our specialty is something every derm should know about and care about,” said Kanade Shinkai, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, and editor in chief of JAMA Dermatology.

The wake-up calls

The impetus for current changes first came in 2015, when Bruce Wintroub, MD, professor and chair of dermatology at UCSF, and interim dean of the medical school at the time, delivered a passionate plenary lecture at the annual AAD meeting about the lack of equity, diversity and inclusion in the specialty and the role of unconscious bias. Moved in part by a “White Coats for Black Lives” die-in by medical students on his campus following the killing of unarmed Black men, Dr. Wintroub called on his colleagues to recruit more UIM physicians into the specialty and to make the field more inclusive.

In 2016, Dr. Wintroub joined Dr. Pandya and two other academic dermatologists in authoring a commentary, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, about the need to step up efforts and make diversity a priority. Dermatology was among the least ethnically and racially diverse specialties, second only to orthopedics, they wrote, with black dermatologists making up only 3% of all dermatologists and Hispanics only 4.2% in the United States, compared with 12.8% and 16.3% in the U.S. population, respectively.

Dr. Amit Pandya

For the next year or so, they and others from six academic institutions formed an incubator of sorts, actively tracking and sharing actions they were taking to improve diversity and the practice environment. “We wanted to learn from each other, then disseminate information to other programs,” said Dr. Pandya, who chaired the AAD diversity task force and led the self-branded “diversity champions.” (Dr. Pandya maintains his appointment at UTSW but now practices at the Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group in Sunnyvale, Calif.)

In 2017, at a President’s Conference on Diversity in Dermatology called for by then-AAD president Henry Lim, MD, leaders of the Association of Professors of Dermatology, the Society for Investigative Dermatology, and other dermatology organizations agreed on key action items, which they described in JAAD in 2018: Helping to increase the pipeline of UIM students applying to medical school, increasing UIM medical students’ early exposure to dermatology, and increasing the number of UIM students recruited into dermatology residency programs.

Diversity in the physician workforce has been shown to improve outcomes for all patients, and is important for ameliorating health care disparities and improving satisfaction and care for all patients, the authors of the 2018 paper wrote. “Multiple studies,” they noted, “have shown that UIM physicians are more likely to practice in areas where health care disparities exist.”

For specific proposed actions, the leaders attending the diversity conference drew largely upon the “diversity champions’” experiences, and agreed to fund and officially develop a diversity champions program. They also decided to invest in “bioskills” workshops for undergraduates and medical students at historically black colleges and universities, and other institutions at historically black colleges and universities at medical schools through a partnership with Nth Dimension – an organization founded in 2004 to bring more women and underrepresented minorities into orthopedic surgery.

In the last 2 years, more than 450 UIM students have attended these bioskills workshops, getting a taste of basic dermatology procedures and interacting with dermatologists.

And in September 2020, 157 dermatologists representing 80 programs throughout the country attended the second AAD Diversity Champions conference, up from 84 attendees and 30 programs in 2019. On the agenda: Discussions of holistic application review, mentorship, recruitment of UIM faculty, and a 2-hour session on microaggressions. Similar programs are being led by other dermatology organizations.

(UIM was coined by the American Association of Medical Colleges to describe racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in medicine relative to their numbers in the general population.)

Achievement of racial/ethnic diversity “won’t happen unless the field actively encourages people to look at it – which is not what we were doing,” Dr. Wintroub said in an interview. “I think that’s been the major change. We’re opening the door and saying: ‘We want you and we welcome you.’ ”


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