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Leaders in medicine – Part 1

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


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

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

The American Academy of Dermatology is one of hundreds of medical associations in the U.S., each offering opportunities for doctors to assume important leadership positions. Engaged leaders in the house of medicine help shape policy and push diagnoses and treatment technologies forward.

Fortunately, dermatology has a strong footing in leadership roles across the house of medicine. This includes our own AAD president, deanships at medical schools, federal positions such as in the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, and even the current president of the American Medical Association. DermWorld interviewed nine board-certified dermatologists and AAD members who have served in leadership roles about their experiences. This month, we talk to:

  • Kelly M. Cordoro, MD, FAAD

  • Terrence A. Cronin Jr., MD, FAAD

  • Rear Admiral (retired) Boris D. Lushniak, MD, MPH, FAAD

  • Jack Resneck Jr., MD, FAAD

  • Cyndi Yag-Howard, MD, FAAD

Come back next month to read our interviews with Seemal R. Desai, MD, FAAD; Kenneth A. Katz, MD, MSc, MSCE, FAAD; Markham Luke, MD, FAAD; and Allison Vidimos, MD, BS Pharm, 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.
Kelly M. Cordoro, MD, FAAD

Dr. Cordoro is the chair of the AAD’s Leadership Development Steering Committee.

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

Dr. Cordoro: Dermatologists are aware of our value and our reach. If dermatologists take a seat at leadership tables within the house of medicine, we become an integral part of the conversation. Only by intentional engagement can we shape our reputation as innovative change-makers and inform decisions and policies that are aligned with our values as a specialty. As the chair of the AAD Leadership Development Steering Committee, I have the enormous privilege of working to actively advance our commitment to leadership development for underrepresented minorities in dermatology. We must not stop until we are able to recognize the dermatologists sitting at leadership tables within the AAD and the house of medicine as those who mirror our patients, our specialty, our Academy, and the world we live in.

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

Dr. Cordoro: I have logged quite a few leadership miles on my journey to becoming chair of the AAD Leadership Development Steering Committee. My leadership journey began in team sports. Now many decades beyond the time when my softball jersey was adorned with a “Captain” patch, those early leadership lessons endure, and I still consider any type of leadership to be a team sport. In dermatology, my leadership journey began at my first AAD Leadership Forum (LF) in 2005, the year I transitioned from chief resident to faculty member at the University of Virginia. That weekend changed the course of my career and my approach to work and life. Since then, I have sat at many leadership tables from Virginia to San Francisco, small and large, within and outside of the AAD, and found that no matter the size of the role, each affords an opportunity for introspection and growth. My work with the LDSC began about 10 years ago, starting as a LF working group member, then LF chair, followed by two terms on the LDSC before being appointed chair of the committee. I owe a debt of gratitude to those who sponsored and supported me along the way.

Leadership is never easy if we are fully invested. Raising your hand for a leadership role takes courage — a willingness to act despite self-doubt or fear of failure. Leading puts us in a position to be scrutinized, judged, and compared and requires a strong sense of self and deep knowledge of our core values. In addition to a growth mindset and a decent baseline skill set, the privileged position of leadership requires vulnerability, resilience, honesty, diplomacy, self-awareness, and value alignment. Whether our roles are large or small, leadership affords us the chance to work with a team to advance a cause while being personally enriched and ideally, developing and lifting others. As chair of the LDSC, I have the pleasure of working with passionate committee members and AAD staff to harness the collective wisdom of the group and develop Leadership Institute initiatives to advance our mission and develop future goals. It is among my most meaningful professional roles. If one is open to it, the leadership learning curve remains ever so steep. Indeed, leadership is not a destination but a journey, and I am still very much on it.

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

Dr. Cordoro: The Leadership Institute and its programs are an offering of the Academy that I value the most. Without investment in leadership training, mentorship, and networking, we will not have the skills or visibility to be effective at the hard work we do. Participants of the leadership forum, under-represented in medicine leadership program, advanced leadership forum, academic dermatology and other leadership programs collectively represent the voice of the academy and are its current and future leaders. My involvement in the AAD has equipped me with the skills, experience, colleagues, and collaborations that have supported and advanced my career. I am honored to serve in an AAD leadership role and pay it forward.

Academy leadership programs

Learn more about the AAD’s leadership programs at www.aad.org/leadership-institute.

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

Dr. Cordoro: DO it! Do not wait. Take a seat at the table. Listen and learn and position yourself to be a change-maker. Know yourself and follow the path that aligns most with your passion, values, and time. Prepare yourself with the Leadership Institute offerings and get to it! We need leaders in policy, education, innovation, service, and other arms of the Academy locally, regionally, and nationally to help secure our future as a specialty.

Headshot for Dr. Cronin
Terrence A. Cronin Jr., MD, FAAD

Dr. Cronin is the current president 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. Cronin: Having dermatologists in leadership roles within the house of medicine is important for several reasons. It helps create dermatology-friendly policies that can create greater patient access to dermatologic care. As we all know, dermatologists are super-talented physicians whose leadership skills are appreciated by our colleagues when we are given the opportunity. Additionally, it gives dermatologists a better understanding of how other specialties impact their patients and can lead to more successful collaborations between different specialists. Having dermatologists involved in health care leadership also helps ensure that our specialty is aware of the latest professional opportunities, challenges, and standards.

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

Dr. Cronin: I am incredibly honored to have been elected President of the AAD. I became interested in dermatology leadership when I felt that the stewards of our specialty and government regulators were driving us away from the awesome breadth of opportunity that is dermatology and placing limits on what it means to be a dermatologist. As the son of a dermatologist, I have been aware of the challenges to our specialty for longer than many of my more senior colleagues. I have a strong belief that dermatologists have a unique obligation to our patients that can only come from advancing our specialty as well as protecting our investments in each other. Becoming a dermatologist wasn’t easy, and it should remain a respected pinnacle of medical accomplishment. I have been active in my great state of Florida, and I have had leadership positions in the American Society for Mohs Surgery. In the Academy, I have served on many committees and task forces, but it was my involvement in the Advisory Board that allowed me the leadership opportunity and helped propel me to the presidency. As Advisory Board chair, I served on the AAD Board of Directors and presented many resolutions from the membership to that august body.

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

Dr. Cronin: The Academy provides many opportunities for members to develop their leadership skills, such as the incredible AADA Legislative Conference and the equally amazing Leadership Forum. My experience in service to our Academy certainly motivated me to run for president. Winning an election isn’t easy, and having a profile that is recognizable to the membership is a challenge for a private practitioner. I was already known as an editor-in-chief of Dialogues in Dermatology, Advisory Board chair, and Grassroots Advocacy chair, but when I was made the AAD election correspondent to try to engage more of our members in the election cycle, it definitely raised my profile. I learned an immense amount from each of these experiences, developing my skills in organizational management and people management so I can lead our team to success.

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

Dr. Cronin: Take the time to develop your skills and make sure you have a strong understanding of the issues facing the medical community. Research your options carefully and familiarize yourself with the different facets of the house of medicine.

Understand the current trends and challenges facing the medical field, and opportunities that exist; this will allow you to better plan how to contribute.

Network with health care stakeholders and seek out mentors who have experience working in a leadership role.

Be prepared to build relationships, take initiative, and demonstrate leadership skills. Being a leader often requires an ability to make tough choices and navigate potential political land mines successfully.

Finally, understand and be willing to advocate for the needs of your patients, your colleagues, and the larger medical community.

Headshot for Dr. Lushniak
Rear Admiral (retired) Boris D. Lushniak, MD, MPH, FAAD

Dr. Lushniak is the dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, a retired Rear Admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service, and the former deputy and acting Surgeon General of the United States.

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

Dr. Lushniak: To a large extent the key factor here is the house of medicine. We are part of an incredible profession that includes many different specialty areas. We have the opportunity to influence those other specialty areas, and one way to do that is to stick our necks out and become leaders of that house of medicine. Nothing gets done if one remains enclosed within one’s own home.

We can’t just speak with and lead each other. I do appreciate the leadership of the dermatology world that is out there, but the reality is that we as dermatologists have something to say. We can do that by making sure that we look at the opportunities outside of our own specialty arena to take on those leadership roles, and to do that boldly with conviction and with passion to show others that dermatology as a specialty arena is not only important, but also vocal and passionate.

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

Dr. Lushniak: It all started with being an officer in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, which is one of the eight uniformed services that serve our nation. We’re an unarmed uniformed service of the U.S., and that’s been a good chunk of my career path: I spent 27 years in uniform. Being an officer for this unique service, whose main mission is to promote, advance, and protect the health and safety of our nation, was a setup to taking on leadership roles within that uniformed service. It was a slow growth, from a very junior officer to taking on more responsibilities. That ultimately culminated in being the Deputy United States Surgeon General for five years between 2010 and 2015, and as acting U.S. Surgeon General for about a year and a half.

It is the sense of opportunity. Not everyone has that option or that potential out there each and every day. For me, part of it was hard work, but part of it was luck, and being in the right place at the right time to be brought in on some of these leadership roles. In particular, this allowed our specialty to be a focus out there in the highest level of the U.S. government. I was the first dermatologist to be a Deputy U.S. Surgeon General and the first to be an Acting Surgeon General. That allowed me to not just look at the bigger public health mission and the public health priorities, but also to instill dermatology into the mix. One of the things that was a successful endeavor, that involved a team from the CDC, the office of the U.S. Surgeon General, and the AAD, was to issue the first-ever U.S. Surgeon General call to action for skin cancer prevention in 2014. I think of it as a pathway of leadership opportunities that ultimately culminated at that level and allows us to shine, not just for the good of the public health — which is, of course, what the Surgeon General does — but also for the good of dermatology as well. I was honored and humbled to be in that position.

Since retiring after 27 years of service, I took that same leadership philosophy into the realm of public health. I am now the dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health in College Park. I lead a school where we have 2,400 undergraduate students and 400 graduate students, and our mission now is to educate the next generation of public health leaders. I’m still very active in the dermatology world, but I always approach it with the angle of reminding dermatologists of our role in the bigger public health mission.

One of our greatest roles in the bigger public health mission of this time is to meet the responsibility and opportunity as dermatologists to address historical and current inequities — racial, gender, socioeconomic, and across other dimensions of difference — that lead to health disparities. We have the power to use our voice and actions to advance access, responsive care, ethical research, equity, and social justice. There are a multitude of ways to do this. For example, I have worked to address the issue of diversity in the medical and public health fields by mentoring and recommending underrepresented students and young professionals. I have also used my voice and decision making to address the lack of diversity in leadership roles in the profession and at my own institution and school. We have had hard conversations and looked at the history and contemporary challenges of our times. And if you’re not sure how or where to start, reach out to someone who has modeled being an agent of change and can offer you guidance and support.

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

Dr. Lushniak: I have been part of the AAD since my residency years, and I’ve been active as an AAD member both in terms of presentation at meetings, as well as further activity as I went up the chain of command in the U.S. Public Health Service. Specifically, I was active within the realm of occupational skin diseases, which was my area of expertise early on. I view the AAD not only as an important forum for us to exchange scientific ideas, but also from a policy perspective, such as when I worked with the Academy on the skin cancer prevention call to action. I’m also currently a co-chair of the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, and the AAD plays a key role as a member of that council. I’m still interacting even at this point in my career. Actually, a few years ago, I was honored with the Clarence S. Livingood, MD, Memorial Award Lectureship at the 2019 AAD Annual Meeting, which to me was a highlight of my career.

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

Dr. Lushniak: When I lecture about this, I think a “cop out” for many of us, which is based on the fear of the unknown, is the overuse of an adjective that I think should be eliminated: “just.” Oftentimes as dermatologists, when things get a little hairy, we’ll say “I’m just a dermatologist, I’m just the skin guy, so don’t get me involved in anything else out there.” But, limiting oneself to one certain path by saying “I’m just a dermatologist” really just boxes us in. I would like dermatologists to expand their horizons and take on that level of their expertise in skin diseases and raise it up a notch.

That doesn’t have to be as the acting U.S. Surgeon General or by taking on major leadership roles. It can be local advocacy. What are we doing in our communities that takes us beyond being “just” a dermatologist and brings us into this idea of advocacy as a leader?

We have something to say, whether it’s skin cancer prevention or the general aspects of the importance of skin disease in our society and being a leader means stepping out of that comfort zone. It’s going to be scary. Every single opportunity in my life has been scary. When the phone call came in from the Surgeon General saying, “Boris, I want you to be my deputy,” my first reaction was utter and overwhelming fear and my first thought was “oh my gosh, I can’t do this,” even though I’ve had a plethora of life experiences that prepared me.

Fear is a good emotion. It keeps us out of trouble. But fear should not paralyze us from moving forward and being challenged.

Look at it this way. I’m a believer that the ultimate goal in life is not the riches or comfort we have. Those come along for the ride. It’s being able to tell a good story. Stick your neck out and tell me a good story afterward. Tell me what you learned. And if you failed, well, that’ll be a good story too.

Headshot for Dr.
Jack Resneck Jr., MD, FAAD

Dr. Resneck is the current president of the American Medical Association.

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

Dr. Resneck: Dermatologists make up about 1% of the medical profession in the U.S. Because the specialty has shown up in large numbers in the AMA and other organizations and built relationships, our colleagues know and appreciate our shared and unique challenges despite dermatology’s small numbers. Getting support from the broader house of medicine is crucial to have a larger voice, helping us make progress on office-based surgery, lidocaine shortages, scope of practice issues, compounding, prior authorization, skin cancer prevention, broken isotretinoin REMS programs, and Medicare payment. The specialty’s presence also ensures that physicians across specialties have a realistic and accurate view of the breadth and complexity of dermatology practice.

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

Dr. Resneck: When I was in high school and college, I’d often say that I did not plan to go into medicine. I was a policy nerd, majored in public policy as an undergrad, and worked in D.C. following college. I think we can blame my father — a retired dermatologist who woke up excited every day to see patients — for my eventually figuring out that I wanted to attend medical school. If he ever had days when he dreaded work, he hid it extremely well.

So, I went to medical school, but swore that I wouldn’t become a dermatologist. So much for that.

I knew that I wanted to blend policy and advocacy into my career, so after residency I completed a health policy fellowship.

Since then, I’ve always sought ways to take both the joys and the challenges of my daily experience as a practicing physician and use them to inform my work in the policy arena. When I was sent as a resident to the AMA House of Delegates, I quickly realized that those who show up get to influence policy and steer organizations. So, I kept showing up. Somehow, that eventually led to the AMA presidency.

I’ve always believed in finding and using levers of power to confront our system’s flaws. One can approach those flaws with a desire to blow up the system, or from the inside, getting seats at leadership tables to bring about change. The insider approach doesn’t have to be meek or apologetic. It can be powerful, focused, and infused with purpose.

I feel incredibly lucky to have the privilege now to go out and represent a profession in which I feel deep pride.

Yes, I’m worried because our profession is experiencing deep and worrisome burnout, especially after a difficult three years. But I know that we can remove obstacles that burden us and interfere with patient care, and that we can restore joy in medicine.

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

Dr. Resneck: The AAD is responsible for much of the mentorship and leadership development I benefitted from along my own journey in organized medicine. I was welcomed as a resident and then as an AAD Board member several years later. The AAD, through its Leadership Institute, invested in training and networking opportunities that made a real difference. And most of all, I learned from the fellow physicians, management team, and staff I worked alongside, and made lifelong friends.

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

Dr. Resneck: Whenever the time is right in your career, find entry points to involvement that are meaningful to you and fulfilling. For some who don’t have time to travel, that means engaging in local dermatology and county medical societies. For others, it can mean roles in the AMA or AAD. We also need dermatologists engaged in their communities on school boards, city councils, appearing on local news, fighting misinformation on social media, or even running for state and federal office. And at some points when we’re particularly busy with practices or families, it may mean just ensuring that we belong to national, state, and county medical and specialty societies and PACs to support others who are undertaking the work.

Headshot for Dr. Yag-Howard
Cyndi Yag-Howard, MD, FAAD

Dr. Yag-Howard is the current vice 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. Yag-Howard: Dermatology is a unique specialty, in that it merges several specialty interests — medicine, surgery, pathology, pediatrics, geriatrics, infectious disease, rheumatology, etc. — into one. Therefore, our advocacy efforts must be equally far-reaching in order to encompass the needs of our colleagues and their patients. Coordinating those efforts requires leadership and well-orchestrated networking efforts with sibling dermatology societies and like-minded specialty societies in order to speak with a unified voice at the house of medicine and to effect positive change through interactions with national and state legislators, as well as the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

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

Dr. Yag-Howard: I became involved in leadership as a first-year medical student. At my medical school, I was class vice president for three years and class president during my 4th year in medical school. I also served on the Medical Student Executive Committee and the LCME Steering Committee. Outside of the classroom, I joined my county and state medical associations, as well as the American Medical Association, because I felt driven to have a positive influence in medicine, a field that seemed to be bombarded by challenges. As my involvement ensued, I sought leadership roles that I felt would enable me to make a difference for our profession and our patients.

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

Dr. Yag-Howard: Our Academy staff and leadership understand the importance of member engagement and involvement not only within our organization, but also outside of our organization. They offer many channels for members to get involved, beginning with the call for volunteers to serve on councils, committees, and task forces. Member engagement breeds camaraderie, trust, strength, and unity within an organization. It also fosters leadership within an organization. Our Academy not only promotes and encourages leadership, but also teaches leadership skills. I was fortunate enough to chair our first Leadership Conference many years ago before societies were very engaged in such efforts. Yet, our Academy was ahead of its time. Since then, we have developed a more robust Leadership Forum and have made leadership training a regular part of our meeting programming.

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

Dr. Yag-Howard: First, I would suggest speaking with other leaders within the house of medicine to understand their roles and levels of commitment to know if you are really interested and are willing to give the time it takes to be an effective leader. Realize that, oftentimes, the leadership role comes with a significant time commitment, few accolades, and, unfortunately, unanticipated criticism, especially when advocacy efforts fail despite our greatest efforts. As an example, the recent Medicare cuts occurred regardless of the robust and coordinated advocacy efforts put forth by our organization, our members, and our patients. This partial loss was, in some small way, offset by the realization that the cuts would have been worse if our voices weren’t at the talking table. So, as leaders and advocates, we continue in our efforts, change direction and tactics when necessary, and never give up.

If you see yourself as someone who wants to advocate on behalf of our specialty, our colleagues, and our patients, rather than stand on the sidelines watching the parade, then get involved! Ask to join the Academy CCTF structure when you receive a volunteer form. Become a member of your county or state medical association and ask their administrator or leadership how you can get more involved. Or, reach out to me at drcyndi@yhderm.com, and I will be happy to help you get more involved on a local, state, or national level.

Wait, there’s more!

Read the DermWorld Ask the Expert column with 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.