AAD celebrates anniversary
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Dermatologists discuss generations of growth and change

January 2013 marks a significant milestone in Academy history. This month and year the Academy is celebrating its dodranscentennial, or 75th anniversary. (See sidebar about upcoming Academy celebrations.) On Jan. 14-15, 1938, a small group of dermatologists braved a bitter Midwestern winter to gather at the Statler Hotel in Detroit to organize what became the American Academy of Dermatology and Syphilology. (“Syphilology” was removed from the name following a member vote in 1961.) Howard Fox, MD, founding father of the Academy, was elected as the first president. The meeting was held in conjunction with the meetings of several regional groups: the Central States, Mississippi Valley, Chicago, and Detroit dermatologic associations. More than 300 physicians attended this organizational meeting, an astounding 40 percent of American dermatologists at the time, according to Winthrope R. Hubler Jr., MD, in The Academy’s Founding.

While the Academy wasn’t the first national group of dermatologists, it was the first one with the capacity to include an ever-growing number of dermatologists and focus solely on the needs of the specialty. High attendance at the Academy’s inaugural Annual Meeting, held in November 1938 following the January organizational meeting, demonstrated the clear desire for a national society to provide education and organization to the specialty, as the meeting attracted 283 of the new organization’s 574 members.

The first meeting program book was a mere six pages, with a few additional blank pages for note-taking. Before 1976, when the Academy first published The Bulletin, the program book was the only member publication. Today, the Academy offers numerous publications, both print and electronic; some are geared toward members, while others are oriented to the public or industry. [pagebreak]

Memorable meetings, family connections

Academy meetings were “expected to offer unusual opportunities for social intercourse,” noted Samuel Zakon, MD, first historian of the AAD, in an exhibit presented at the 15th Annual Meeting in 1956. Clay Cockerell, MD, a dermatologist and dermatopathologist in private practice in Dallas who served as the Academy’s president in 2005, touched on the significance of Academy meetings: “It’s like a ritual for a lot of us to go the Academy meeting every year — more of a social experience. It’s a unique component of the Academy that brings us together and, in many ways, transcends individual careers.”

For members like Dr. Cockerell, it’s more than that: It’s a family tradition. He and others have witnessed the organization’s growth over the greater part of their lives, having parents who were also dermatologists and attended Academy meetings or held leadership positions within the organization.

Dr. Cockerell, whose father and grandfather were both dermatologists, remembered meetings from an early age. “When I was a kid, my parents used to disappear every December for about a week; they would go to Chicago. This was back when the Academy meeting was always held at the Palmer House.”

Stephen B. Webster, MD, who served as AAD president in 1991 and is the son of James R. Webster, MD, also a past Academy president (1958), experienced Academy meetings from a young age when his father was secretary-treasurer of the Academy in the early 1950s. “In October and November, I remember my mother, myself, and my older brother would go to the office in the Pittsfield Building [Chicago] and stuff, stamp, and lick envelopes with the meeting information. The office consisted of a phone, a typewriter, and a wonderful old mimeograph machine. We would run off stuff on the mimeograph machine; that was more fun than licking envelopes.” Dr. Webster and his brother also worked at Academy meetings; they were responsible for working in a room that housed microscopes for a mycology course. “We were paid 50 cents per hour, which was pretty good money back then.” At that time, annual Academy dues were $15. [pagebreak]

One of Dr. Webster’s more spirited memories of childhood AAD meetings was watching the fun the dermatologists had when gathered together in the evenings. “On the Wednesday night of the Academy Meeting at the Palmer House, there was always a big banquet in the grand ballroom; virtually everybody at the meeting went to the banquet. They had a band, and there was dancing. During dinner, the band would play songs from the different states, and people from those states would stand up and wave their napkin around.”

After the banquet ended, the fun would continue, he said. “There were several dermatologists who were musicians, and dad played the drums. They would have jam sessions in one of the private dining rooms after the banquet — they just had a ball. The spirit was so high.”

Dr. Webster, a sixth-generation physician, recalled how much his father loved the Academy. “I remember how excited dad was about the Academy, and I guess a little bit of that rubbed off on me. They obviously enjoyed what they were doing; it gave me a positive view of medicine in general, but of the Academy in particular.” [pagebreak]

Andrew Lazar, MD, MPH, who served as the Academy’s vice president in 2010, said that both he and his father, Paul Lazar, MD, who also served as vice president, enjoyed the connections they had developed and maintained with many dermatology family friends throughout their lives. In the late 1980s, these connections inspired Dr. Lazar to create a group called “Families in Dermatology,” which included member families who had two or more family members involved in the practice of dermatology. The group used to convene at Academy meetings with an annual reception, and they maintained correspondence during the year via newsletter. After a number of years, Dr. Lazar discontinued the group as it was growing too large to coordinate and increasingly time-consuming. Even though the group dissolved, people still ask about reviving it, he said.

Dr. Lazar’s most poignant Academy memory involved his daughter at the age of three years old, when she participated in an AAD video shoot. “The Academy took my daughter to a beach on Lake Michigan in Highland Park, Ill. She was holding a doll whose skin would tan after exposure to the sun’s rays.” His daughter, following in her father’s footsteps, put sunscreen on the doll and began educating it: “No, dolly, don’t do this — don’t go out into the sun.” His daughter, attempting to say the word “dermatologist” but not quite able to form the word, said, “My daddy’s a skin doctor and he said this is bad for you.” In the early 1990s, Dr. Lazar’s proud family moment became a public service announcement that educated the public about the dangers of unprotected sun exposure. [pagebreak]

The times they are a-changin’

One of the biggest changes the Academy has experienced is the explosive growth in membership. The organization currently has more than 18,000 members, including 3,860 international members — quite an increase from the 574 members who joined in 1938. “Like everything else that’s successful, it’s gotten really big,” agreed Seattle Mohs surgeon Peter Odland, MD, who, like others interviewed for this article, grew up with the Academy. His father, George Odland, MD, was the chief of dermatology at the University of Washington School of Medicine for 29 years, and his grandfather, Henry Odland, MD, was one of the first dermatologists to practice in Washington. “I miss the days when I could walk through the exhibit hall and wave to friends, recognizing many of the attendees and exhibitors,” he said.

While this growth is indicative of Academy success, many members added that it also diluted the sense of intimacy and friendship that existed among the smaller membership. In the special 40th Anniversary issue of the Bulletin, Herman Beerman, MD, the AAD’s president in 1966, noted: “If I were to strike a negative feeling, it would be the sheer size of the meetings and the staging of them in distant sites and in huge halls has to a great extent lessened this spirit of camaraderie.” He continued to remark, however, that these changes were for the good of the organization as it was necessary to “extend the usefulness of the functions of the Academy to its members throughout the year.” [pagebreak]

As the AAD progressed and membership increased, expanding the staff became essential. Arguably the most beloved staff member, Brad Claxton, the Academy’s first executive director, was mentioned by many members contacted for this article. “When I was involved [in the AAD leadership], Brad Claxton leaving was a big deal. We’d been searching for an executive director that would last, and we got spoiled having him all those years,” Dr. Cockerell said. The professionalism and management that Claxton and the staff brought to the Academy was just spectacular, agreed Dr. Webster.

Today, medicine necessitates more business know-how than ever before, with increasing legislation and regulation playing a key role in how physicians practice. Subspecialties, like dermatopathology, have also grown and changed, Dr. Cockerell said. “We were once a really small group, but now there are affiliations with large, national organizations, and companies getting bought and sold for lots of money. A lot of this is driven by business getting into medicine more and also managed care, causing physicians to start looking at ways to still profitably run practices.” Subspecialties, like dermatologic surgery, have really taken off as well. “We were lucky if we even did surgical incisions, and now the whole field of derm surgery has grown up since I’ve been in practice,” he said. [pagebreak]

Advertising has also become customary for many practices. When Dr. Cockerell first started practicing, advertising didn’t exist. “If you advertised in your community, you were considered an outcast — and sleazy.” Dr. Webster recalled his father’s first encounter with a dermatologist’s advertisement: “In the early 1950s, there was a new dermatologist who came to Chicago and put his name in bold print in the yellow pages of the telephone directory. Dad went ballistic — I remember how upset he was because he said if people are going to start advertising like that, it’s going to be very detrimental to medicine.” Today there’s more competition, advertising, and marketing, and so it’s quite a bit different. Not bad, just different, he said.

Despite all the changes in the health care system, the Academy has made every effort to lead dermatologists through what are often unclear and complex processes. “In my transition from academics, where you’re really focused on teaching and research and clinical medicine, to private practice, where you have to develop an aptitude for business, the Academy’s been a phenomenal resource,” Dr. Cockerell said. [pagebreak]

Looking to the future

The launch of the AAD website in 1996 paved the way for major advances in communications technology among membership and the public. Dr. Cockerell expressed excitement about how technology is playing out in the field of dermatology, especially in regard to teledermatology. “With teledermatology and telepathology, we have the opportunity to reach out to people in third-world countries more than we’ve done in the past. That whole area is something we’ll be able to tap into as time goes on.” While the surface is still barely scratched, the Academy’s volunteer teledermatology program, AccessDerm, a program that gives dermatologists the opportunity to provide care to underserved populations in the U.S., is taking a lead on what will continue to be an important part of dermatologic care — both in the U.S. and abroad.

Part of what keeps the Academy at the forefront of the specialty is its ability to adapt, grow, and lead within a changing health care environment. Rudolf L. Baer, MD, the AAD’s president in 1976, remarked in the special edition of The Bulletin: “On this 40th anniversary [of the Academy], I extend my heartiest congratulations. It is my hope that the membership will exhibit the same quality of foresight which inspired the founders of this organization by supporting current and future policies which will keep the Academy in step with this changing world.” 

In recent years the specialty of dermatology has become one of the most sought-after, and therefore, ultra-competitive, allowing dermatology residency programs to select trainees from a pool of the brightest and most talented medical students, Dr. Odland remarked. And while no one can predict the future of the specialty, the Academy’s role as a leader and advocate for dermatologists and patients, its exceptional level of member engagement, and the incredible caliber of future dermatologists suggest that after 75 years, the doors are open wider than ever before. [pagebreak]

Yearlong celebration

The Academy will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in a variety of ways throughout the year, and one of the highlights of the celebration is an interactive timeline showcasing the changes that have taken place since the Academy’s founding in 1938. The timeline will be unveiled on the Academy website at www.aad.org in February. In addition to the timeline, the website will also have a dedicated page containing the Academy’s History Showcase videos, presidential tributes for each AAD president, and more information about special anniversary events and products. A physical representation of the timeline will also be displayed at the Annual and Summer Meetings. The timeline at the 71st Annual Meeting in Miami Beach, Fla., will be displayed in lobby C and D of the convention center.

Celebrating 75 years of leadership and impact

Join the Academy in reaching its goal of raising $1 million for vital AAD programs that enhance patient care, provide educational opportunities for members, and promote sun safety. Your 75th anniversary gift will help broaden the reach and deepen the impact of programs, services, and humanitarian programs in the U.S. and abroad. Together we can continue to positively impact communities and change the lives of children and adults with skin, hair, and nail conditions. Make your gift online at donate.aaddevelopment.org, or call Jessica at (847) 240-1409 for more information.

The Academy goes to Washington

While the Academy’s advocacy activities began in the 1970s, Andrew Lazar, MD, MPH, past Academy vice president and dermatologist in private practice in Modesto, Calif., was instrumental in helping develop the burgeoning branch of the Academy focused on advocacy. It wasn’t until 2000, however, that the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) was incorporated and registered. “One of the things that has been most exciting for me is going to Washington, D.C. You call on your congressman and senators; you walk through tunnels underneath the building and ride on the train that connects the House and Senate,” Dr. Lazar said. Having the chance to influence decisions and speak about laws and proposals that may impact your life is an amazing experience, he said.

In 1994, Dr. Lazar met with the Academy’s attorney at the old Academy headquarters, a converted funeral home located in Evanston, Ill., to work on expanding the Academy’s advocacy abilities. Dr. Lazar and more than 25 other dermatologists eventually formed DermPAC, a political action committee dedicating to making the key issues of dermatology heard by legislators and influencing health care legislators to reflect favorably on the issues. In fact, Dr. Lazar ran DermPAC from his home for a number of years until the Academy developed the association arm of the organization.

This change in tax status was a move that would maximize the Academy’s advocacy potential on the national stage. In 2000, shortly after the inception of the AADA, it organized SkinPAC, its political action committee. The highly successful fundraising efforts of SkinPAC reached a new apex when it raised a record-breaking $1 million dollars during the 2012 election cycle.

While dermatologists make up roughly 0.5 percent of all physicians, they have a large positive visibility within the house of medicine and within Congress, Dr. Lazar said.

“When I joined the Academy back in the 1980s, it was just an educational organization. That was its purpose — to educate physicians. Today, our mission statement is to provide excellence in dermatologic care, which includes educating patients and legislators about the importance of what we do,” he said.

Academy timeline

  • 1938 - AAD founded in January as American Academy of Dermatology and Syphilology. Inaugural Annual Meeting in St. Louis in November attracted 283 of the organization’s 574 members.
  • 1942 - The Academy did not hold an Annual Meeting this year or in 1943, 1944, or 1945, due to World War II.
  • 1948 - Membership was 1,059.
  • 1961 - The Academy changed its name, dropping the word syphilology, following a member vote. 
  • 1966 - After 19 consecutive meetings in Chicago, the Academy held its first non-Palmer House Annual Meeting since 1946 at the Americana Bal Harbour in Bal Harbour, Fla.
  • 1972 - AAD President Walter Shelley, MD, acknowledged the underrepresentation of women in dermatology and encouraged more women to be active in leadership. Dues raised to $20.
  • 1974 - Bradford W. Claxton selected as first executive director. First permanent headquarters opened in Evanston, Ill.
  • 1976 - Last meeting at Chicago’s Palmer House. AAD published first member newsletter, The Bulletin.
  • 1979 - First issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology published in July. J. Graham Smith Jr., MD, served as JAAD’s first editor.
  • 1980 - Membership was 5,233.
  • 1985 - AAD National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Screening Program founded. 
  • 1991 - Dermatology World launched, replacing the bimonthly AAD Bulletin with a monthly member news magazine. 
  • 1991 - AAD membership included more than 1,000 International Fellows for first time.
  • 1992 - Wilma Bergfeld, MD, took office as AAD’s first female president.
  • 1993 - Camp Discovery founded.
  • 1996 - Membership topped 10,000. Academy launched website, www.aad.org.
  • 2000 - 501(c)6 organization, the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA), incorporated and registered in Minneapolis. 
  • 2006 - AAD set Guinness World Record for skin cancer screenings on May 6, 2006. Membership topped 15,000.
  • 2011 - AAD.org and Dermatology World relaunched.
  • 2012 - AAD hosted world’s largest dermatology meeting in San Diego, with more than 19,400 attendees, and launched SPOT Skin Cancer initiative. Current membership is more than 18,000.

For an online-exclusive chart of the Academy's membership growth since 1938, click here.



Yearlong celebration
Celebrating 75 years of leadership and impact
The Academy goes to Washington
Academy timeline