Member Making a Difference: Isabel Maria del Pilar Casas, MD

Member Making a Difference

Dermatologist Isabel Maria del Pilar Casas, MD, trains caregivers in rural Argentina.

Part of the mission of Dr. Casas (right) and her colleagues when they visit a town in rural Argentina is to leave behind knowledge of sun safety. They incorporate teaching school children about the difference between the "good sun" of the early morning and evening hours...

And the "bad sun" at midday, when its rays are the most harmful.

During their visits, Dr. Casas and others also see patients — often a great many of them, as seen here.

Drs. Neil Prose, Osvaldo Maino, and Fernando Stengel see a patient during a May 2012 event.

Dr. Casas undertakes her volunteer efforts with large groups. In September 2011, the group pictured above journeyed 400 km to Chos Malal, one of many isolated communities of Patagonia it has visited.

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When dermatologist Isabel Maria del Pilar Casas, MD, left Buenos Aires, Argentina’s largest city, for San Martin de los Andes, a small city in the mountains of Patagonia, she was quickly “overwhelmed by the large number of patients looking for dermatology assessment, even for benign or simple conditions.” While she provided the care she could, she realized she had to enlist the help of others to meet the needs of her new patients. Soon she had established a program that brings dermatologists and dermatologic training to small cities throughout the region.

"Dermatology training in medical school is usually brief and does not provide the general practitioner with enough tools for their future activity in rural areas."

  • Like the U.S., Argentina has fewer dermatologists to meet the needs of its rural population than its urban one. Finding a way to ensure that rural patients received dermatologic treatment required Dr. Casas to train others. Nurses and health care officers, she said, were excited to receive training. “Everyone liked it, and we learned a lot about local people’s traditions, where they live, and how they live.”
  • As the program grew, Dr. Casas said, “we offered short courses addressed to medical school students, with a very high rate of attendance.” Soon practicing physicians in the area were participating, too.
  • Today the program is run throughout Neuquen Province, and everyone involved benefits, Dr. Casas said. “Local people get the access to a dermatologist, at least once. Local health personnel receive a brief training and remain in contact via Web for further educational activities and teledermatology consults. Rural school children and teachers receive a nice visit, start talking about sun protection, and share the opportunity to talk about regular dermatology problems with dermatologists.” Local politicians, she noted, “usually receive lots of the credit for the activity, so they give all the help they can finding the place for doing the activities, food, etc.” Pharmaceutical companies provide samples for patients, making their brands familiar to the rural doctors. And the dermatologists who participate “see different cases, and share a really nice activity with other colleagues in a very different environment that the regular dermatology meetings.”
  • Eventually, Dr. Casas said, “Our ideal would be to incorporate dermatology residents in this activity as a regular part of their education program: by solving teledermatology consults, they can be evaluated by their tutors and will also learn how to solve real problems while receiving dermatology education.”

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