Spotlight on Dermatology

Dermatology isn’t just about cosmetic procedures and treating acne. It’s a field that focuses on “evaluating and treating children and adults with benign and malignant disorders of the skin, hair, nails and adjacent mucous membranes.” We spoke with Nada Elbuluk, MD, MSc, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor at the USC Department of Dermatology, Keck School of Medicine. She is also the director of the Skin of Color Center and director of the Diversity and Inclusion Program. Dr. Elbuluk discusses how she started in dermatology and what the future of diversity looks like in the field. (EHC): Many of our readers are just starting to explore health care as a career option. Why did you choose this health care path?
Nada Elbuluk (NE):
There are several aspects that I enjoy about being a dermatologist. It’s a very visual field and I like being able to walk into the room and see the condition the patient has. I also like being able to do a continuity of care and so I’m able to see patients, get to know them better and see them get better over time.

EHC: Your research and clinical interests involve general medicine, cosmetic dermatology, ethnic skin conditions and pigmentary disorders. What generated this interest?
My interest evolved over time when I was in medical school and working on my master’s of science in clinical research. During that time, I did a year of research that focused on pigmentary disorders and ethnic skin conditions. I was fascinated by pigmentation and how it could be affected by various diseases. As I continued to do residencies, I grew more interested in that area of dermatology.

EHC: What do you wish the public understood more about concerning your profession?
NE: A lot of the public tends to see dermatology as a cosmetic field. They go straight to thinking about anti-aging, Botox and other cosmetic treatments, but it’s much more than that. We certainly have an aesthetic component to our field, but there’s a huge component of our field which is medical dermatology. There are over 3,000 diseases that we treat, which provide a lot of depth and complexity to the field.

EHC: What are the common misconceptions about your career? What specific misconceptions or stigmas do you face in the medical field? How do you respond to them?
NE: The face of medicine is changing and over time we’re seeing more and more women in this profession. There are still more male physicians, but we’re seeing more equality and balance in the medical schools. It’s promising for me that in the future we’re going to see more of a balance between men and women in the field.

I’d like to see more improvement in diversity. In medicine, we still have some ways to go in terms of improving the number of underrepresented minorities.

EHC: What resources would you recommend students to use to learn more about becoming a dermatologist in these underrepresented communities?
NE: I’m a part of several organizations that support the mission on mentorship to those in underrepresented communities, including the American Academy of Dermatology. Our very large organization has local membership and many committees. One of the committees is the diversity task force that has a mentorship program for those interested in the field of dermatology.

I’m also on the board of an organization called the Skin of Color Society, which is devoted to ethnic skin conditions. I co-founded the mentorship program in the society and do a lot of programming, one of which is mentorship.

The third organization I’m a part of is the Women Dermatologic Society, which is composed of both women and men dedicated to supporting women in dermatology. Within that organization, we’re also developing a taskforce for diversity.

EHC: On the topic of mentorship, what was your experience like working with a mentor?
NE: I’ve been very fortunate because I’ve been able to work with numerous mentors along my career path. In some cases, I had formal mentors who were paired up with me based on my area of interest. We had set meeting times and specific programming we had to go over. Otherwise, I had informal mentors who were recommended to me by a peer because they thought they would be able to give me great advice. Our meetups would be as simple as talking on the phone with them or shadowing in their clinic.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Skin of Color Society, check out their website here.

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