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Leaders in medicine – Part 2

DermWorld talks to dermatologists in leadership roles in the house of medicine.


By Matthew Walsh, Member Communications Specialist, June 1, 2023

Banner illustration for DermWorld on Leadership in the House of Medicine Part 1.

This is the second part of a series of interviews in which DermWorld spoke with nine board-certified dermatologists who serve or have served in important leadership roles within the house of medicine. These physicians provide insight on their journeys and why they believe dermatologists should serve in leadership roles.

This month, we feature:

  • Seemal R. Desai, MD, FAAD

  • Kenneth A. Katz, MD, MSc, MSCE, FAAD

  • Markham Luke, MD, PhD, FAAD

  • Allison Vidimos, MD, BS Pharm, FAAD

Check out the May 2023 issue of DermWorld to read our interviews with Kelly Cordoro, MD, FAAD; Terrence A. Cronin Jr., MD, FAAD; Boris Lushniak, MD, MPH, FAAD; Jack Resneck Jr., MD, FAAD; and Cyndi Yag-Howard, MD, FAAD. Also, check out a recent interview with Georgia Tuttle, MD, FAAD, about her involvement in medical leadership, including her service on the AMA Board of Trustees.

Headshot for Dr. Desai
Seemal R. Desai, MD, FAAD

Dr. Desai is a member of the FDA Pharmacy Compounding Advisory Committee and the current president-elect of the American Academy of Dermatology/Association.

DermWorld: Why do you believe it is important for dermatologists to have leadership roles within the house of medicine?

Dr. Desai: Leadership in our specialty and within the house of medicine go hand-in-hand, in my opinion. For dermatologists, I think involvement in the broader house of medicine is extremely important for a variety of different reasons. For example, dermatology is one of the smallest specialties, and so having our voice heard when it comes to decision-making, advocating for policies, patient care, outcomes, research and development into new therapies, public awareness, and so much more, becomes even more impactful. Advocacy issues, coding and reimbursement challenges, and scope of practice are just a few issues where we must be actively involved in sharing what we in dermatology do for our patients.

DermWorld: Tell us about your journey to your leadership position.

Dr. Desai: My journey to leadership started in the early days of medical school. When I was a first-year medical student, I became involved in the American Medical Association’s Medical Student Section. What has transpired since then has been years of enriching and fulfilling opportunities to give back to the health care community and hone my own leadership skills in a way that I feel has contributed to our specialty.

DermWorld: How did your involvement in the Academy help you along the way?

Dr. Desai: The Academy has an incredible number of resources to help advance and grow leadership skills that can help in AAD leadership and help your leadership journey even outside of dermatology. The opportunity to get involved at the council, committee, and task force level has obviously been foundational to understanding all that the Academy does on behalf of our members and our specialty. The AAD Leadership Institute has probably been the most transformational set of activities that I have been involved in. From having attended the AAD Leadership Forum a few years out of residency, to serving as a member and ultimately the chair of the Leadership Development Steering Committee and having attended the Advanced Leadership Forum for mid-career dermatologists, I have experienced the incredible leadership resources that the AAD has available for members. I encourage everyone to explore all of the different opportunities that are available through the AAD Leadership Institute!

DermWorld: What advice would you give fellow dermatologists who are considering pursuing leadership roles within the house of medicine?

Dr. Desai: I think it’s important to keep in mind that leadership also means helping to train the next generation of leaders by providing mentorship and guidance to medical students in residency in whom you see potential as a future leader, or even those who may be interested in getting involved but don’t know how to take the first steps. When I think of involvement in the broader house of medicine, that does not just include organizations on the national level. In fact, I believe involvement with your state, county, and regional medical societies are incredible ways to give back.

Leadership Institute

The Leadership Institute (LI) is an Academy initiative that provides training, mentoring, and networking opportunities to help dermatologists develop leadership skills to make them successful in their careers and in life. Learn more about the AAD’s leadership programs.

Headshot for Dr. Katz
Kenneth A. Katz, MD, MSc, MSCE, FAAD

Dr. Katz is the co-chair of the FDA’s Dermatologic and Ophthalmic Drug Advisory Committee and a dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente.

DermWorld: Why do you believe it is important for dermatologists to have leadership roles within the house of medicine?

Dr. Katz: As experts on skin, hair, and nails, dermatologists are uniquely qualified to provide input relating to our specialty. As leaders within the house of medicine, we can educate our colleagues in other specialties and advocate for patients experiencing dermatologic conditions.

DermWorld: Tell us about your journey to your leadership position.

Dr. Katz: I became interested in public health during my dermatology residency. I was a first-year dermatology resident in New York City during the anthrax attacks that occurred shortly after 9/11. The hospital where I worked was the referral center for all cases concerning for anthrax. I saw first-hand how important and exciting public health was and how vital it was to have dermatologists involved in public-health responses. Two years after finishing my residency, I began working in public health, including positions at the FDA, the CDC, and in local public health. Ultimately, I returned to full-time clinical care, but have maintained my interest in public health. The FDA began inviting me to participate in advisory committee meetings, and then offered me a slot on the Dermatologic and Ophthalmic Drugs Advisory Committee. I’m now starting my second term as a chair of that committee.

DermWorld: How did your involvement in the Academy help you along the way?

Dr. Katz: It’s been helpful to meet other dermatologists interested in public health through the AAD, especially at educational meetings that include sessions focused on the intersection of public health and dermatology.

DermWorld: What advice would you give fellow dermatologists who are considering pursuing leadership roles within the house of medicine?

Dr. Katz: Look for opportunities that interest you and connect with dermatologists who might already have leadership roles that appeal to you.

Headshot for Dr. Luke
Markham Luke, MD, PhD, FAAD

Dr. Luke is the FDA’s director of the Division of Therapeutic Performance in the Office of Research and Standards, Office of Generic Drugs.

DermWorld: Why do you believe it’s important for dermatologists to have leadership roles within the house of medicine?

Dr. Luke: Thank you for this question. It gets to the heart of leading for what a physician and dermatologist believe matters and can make the biggest difference. I have trained as a physician first and then as a dermatologist. Most of the dermatologists I know lead for this specialty in one way or another. This is important for advancement and promotes the relevance of our chosen specialty. I am currently in a position at the FDA where I advocate across specialties for generic drugs, medical devices, and health care access, and so I can appreciate that each specialty has individuals who perform leadership functions. Dermatologists need to put our best and most driven colleagues to the task of leading our profession to elevate our specialty, so as to be “on par” with other specialties. I refer to this concern, as related to FDA, in one of my recent papers on “The History of Dermatology and Dermatologists at the US Food and Drug Administration” that I wrote together with our FDA historian Dr. Vanessa L. Burrows:

“Dermatologists have influenced FDA reviews and decision-making over the years by providing the dermatology perspective on risk and benefits of various medical products. This is an important role for any specialist at FDA. There was a high-level manager at FDA that was often fond of saying that FDA regulates drugs that “treat diseases from heart disease to depression to toenail fungus.” Depending on how that statement is interpreted, one could take umbrage on having a certain disease that affects patients one sees and treats for significant concerns and morbidity, at the end of a perceived spectrum. This anecdote speaks to the importance of having adequate representation of a specialty, such as dermatology, at the regulatory conference table, weighed in the balance with other agency experts.” (Dermatology Clinics. 2022. 40:3, 237-48.)

DermWorld: Tell us about your journey to your leadership position.

Dr. Luke: My leadership journey involved taking opportunities as they presented themselves and making the most of them. Each organization that I have worked in or with provided opportunities and training that helped me achieve my goals, provided frames for my vision and values, and taught me skills needed for advancement. I would say the foundational skills were laid out during my years of school and having great mentors at NYU, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Rockefeller University, Johns Hopkins University, and Washington University in St. Louis. In addition, life events caused me to accept a commission in the U.S. Public Health Service, learn skills, and hone my medical toolset at the NIH and the FDA. The mentors I have had along the way were from various disciplines, but the ones relevant to our discussion on dermatology are Dr. Toni Hood, Dr. Evan Farmer, Dr. Tom Provost, Dr. Art Eisen, Dr. Susi Bayless, Dr. Kim Yancey, Dr. Maria Turner, and Dr. Jon Wilkin. My mentors are fantastic leaders, they inspired me along my journey, and they continue to inspire.

DermWorld: How did your involvement in the Academy help you along the way?

Dr. Luke: The American Academy of Dermatology, as with most medical specialty organizations, provides a structured framework for developing, documenting, and teaching the advances, progress, or challenges in the field of dermatology. The meeting venues, the committees, and the delineation of membership by individuals allowed me to have a forum for areas that were determined to be of importance for the intersection of dermatology and public health. The FDA’s role in protecting and advancing the public health of the United States is one that employees take seriously. The AAD has been a partner in various FDA efforts, including maintaining access to isotretinoin despite concerns related to its side effects, such as teratogenicity; advancing novel therapeutics with risks that were appropriate to their dermatologic benefit, such as biologics for psoriasis and dermal fillers for aesthetic use; increasing our regulatory oversight for indoor tanning due to concern of an epidemic of melanoma in young women; increasing the role of the dermatology patient in drug development; and, most recently, advancing the science-based regulatory evaluation of topical generic drugs.

The American Academy of Dermatology — the offices in Washington, D.C., the leadership, and the membership — have been involved in working together with FDA over the years in advancing dermatologic public health. The FDA, through its Office of External Affairs, keeps organizations such as AAD informed about FDA events and efforts that might impact the Academy. Having an office in D.C. has been very helpful to allow a target for such communications. The AAD has also provided my FDA colleagues and staff with a venue for us to publish information relevant to dermatologists, whether it be a letter to the editor or a review article. The AAD has, without fail, provided to FDA an annual forum to speak, present, and teach dermatologists at our Academy meetings. Getting involved in committees such as Skin Cancer Prevention, Drug Pricing, Government Affairs, and Practice Data Gathering has helped me learn some of the relevant needs for dermatology patients and practitioners.

DermWorld: What advice would you give fellow dermatologists who are considering pursuing leadership roles within the house of medicine?

Dr. Luke: My general approach would be to start by establishing a vision for yourself based on your values, expertise, and interests, and work toward that. Look for others who share some of your vision and values to work together. Invest time and resources or find a role in the house of medicine that aligns with your goals. I would encourage any of my fellow dermatologists with an interest in regulatory dermatology to visit the FDA website for available opportunities at FDA. If any of my dermatology colleagues have questions or want to discuss, please email me at Markham.Luke@fda.hhs.gov.

Headshot for Dr. Vidimos
Allison Vidimos, MD, BS Pharm, FAAD

Dr. Vidimos is a former member of the U.S. Pharmacopeia Compounding Expert Committee and joined the AAD Board of Directors this year.

DermWorld: Why do you believe it is important for dermatologists to have leadership roles within the house of medicine?

Dr. Vidimos: There are many issues in health care that affect all physicians, and some that more specifically involve dermatologists. Dermatologists comprise approximately 1% of all physicians. Advocacy at the state and federal level is vital to our specialty. It is crucial that we have a voice at the table to add diversity to discussions and decision making, and to be more visible to other specialties who can work with us as an ally for the improvement of health care delivery.

DermWorld: Tell us about your journey to your leadership position.

Dr. Vidimos: I have been involved in leadership of the Cleveland Dermatological Society, the Ohio Dermatological Society, the Ohio Society for Dermatologic Surgery, the American College of Mohs Surgery, the International Transplant Skin Cancer Cooperative, the American Academy of Dermatology, and the American Board of Dermatology. I have been fortunate to have mentors and leaders who have helped me develop my leadership, teaching, communication, and advocacy skills in my position, as chair of the Department of Dermatology at the Cleveland Clinic as well as within these societies. My interests in education, training, practice management, and research have driven many of my efforts in these roles.

DermWorld: How did your involvement in the Academy help you along the way?

Dr. Vidimos: I have been fortunate to be involved with several AAD committees and task forces since the early 1990s, including the Continuing Medical Education Committee from 1994–2006, for which I served as vice chair from 2002–2006; the JAAD Editorial Board from 2008–2012; and the Mohs AUC Committee. I was fortunate to participate in the AAD Advanced Leadership Forum, which provided meaningful education on communication, conflict resolution, consensus building, and networking. I was appointed to the AAD Scientific Assembly Committee, which is responsible for planning and executing the Annual and Summer Meetings, in 2012 and served until 2017. I was very impressed by the support of the AAD staff in the implementation of these successful meetings.

I was nominated by the American College of Mohs Surgery to be one of the first three physician experts on the United States Pharmacopoeia Compounding Committee in 2018. As a pharmacist and dermatologist, I felt I could represent the needs and practices of dermatologists to this panel of pharmacists, who were discussing revisions of Chapter 797 (compounding sterile preparations) and Chapter 795 (compounding nonsterile preparations). I proposed developing a USP monograph for in-office buffered lidocaine to this committee. I served as a liaison between the USP and the AAD staff and members of the Academy Compounding Committee — who very efficiently and effectively led the efforts with the ACMS, ASDS, and ASMS to forge a path forward with the USP to allow dermatologists to safely perform in-office compounding of buffered lidocaine. The AAD staff have coordinated the communications and finances of these societies to perform the necessary testing on in-office buffered lidocaine and to document sterility and ingredient stability. If the final testing is successful, we will submit a drug monograph to the USP. I was proud to be elected to the AAD Board of Directors, which I will serve on until 2026.

DermWorld: What advice would you give fellow dermatologists who are considering pursuing leadership roles within the house of medicine?

Dr. Vidimos: There are many opportunities for leadership, education, and advocacy at the local, state, and national levels. Identify your interests and strengths and seek out opportunities for committee and task force participation with your local and state dermatology societies, as well as with the AAD, the AMA, and dermatology subspecialty societies. Find a mentor in your areas of interest and be an active, hard-working, and prepared participant. Step out of you comfort zone. Your positive reputation and relationship building will open doors for other opportunities. You will find satisfaction and meaning in enhancing, promoting, and protecting the practice of dermatology and assuring quality care of the patients we serve.

Wait, there’s more!

Read about Georgia Tuttle, MD, FAAD, member of the AMA’s Board of Trustees, former chair of the AMA’s Council on Medical Service, and first female president of the New Hampshire Medical Society. She shares her story about her career as a dermatologist in a leadership role in the house of medicine.