Dear Future Dermatologists,
Whether you are a first year medical student considering the field of dermatology, a third year working through clinical rotations or a fourth year student in the midst of the dermatology application process, we hope to provide you with useful information through this DIGA newsletter.
Read about the application and interview process from an accepted applicant
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Special Feature: Q&A with Dr. Ammar M Ahmed, Dermatology Residency Program Director at Dell Medical School, Austin, TX
Background: As we all know applying dermatology can be a difficult process. We asked Dr. Ammar Ahmed to weigh in on the application process and address some common questions on how to be a competitive applicant.
Q: Tell me about yourself. What made you interested in dermatology?
A: I work at Dell Medical School as the dermatology program director. I graduated in 2011 from UT Southwestern and came straight to Dell and have been here ever since. I did dermatology well you know, because it is the best field out there. It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy going to work, I enjoy seeing kids and adults, doing surgery, doing medical dermatology and the variety dermatology has to offer. In specific, I knew I wanted to do a job where I wore a few different hats, so that is what drew me to academics. Right now, I spend about 50% doing clinic and seeing patients and the other half is spent teaching, administrative work, research and all sorts of other things. Wearing a few different hats keeps things interesting.
Q: What makes a good applicant in your eyes?
A: Number 1 is someone who is motivated and has a track record of motivation. I think when it comes to the application, motivation can come out if you’ve been a leader or shown passion towards certain things based on your work ethic. Motivation is very important. Obviously, grades and board scores are very important as well, but having a record of scholarly success shows someone’s grit and being able to get things past the goal line and get things published or accepted for publication. All of those things are important, but you also need someone who gets along with others. It can come off in applicant’s Dean’s letter and letters of recommendation on how people function as a team. These days healthcare is very much team based, especially a field like dermatology where you have a small group of residents of which you work very closely.
Q: How important are extracurriculars (leadership positions, volunteer experiences or past dermatology experiences)?
A: It’s important to have some clinical dermatology whether it’s a clinical rotation or away rotation to prove that you have been exposed to the field, you like it and are making an informed decision. But you don’t have to have a wealth of dermatological experience or anything. I think in terms of extracurriculars in general, its quality over quantity, no question. If you have some different resume padding things, few hours here, few hours there, it doesn’t really mean much. You can’t get a sense of what the person is really interested in, what they’re passionate about or what their skillset is. By seeing activities that people really put a lot of time in, a lot of effort in and have been engaged at multiple levels in really shows something about their personality interest.
Q: How much do you factor in publications, presentations, posters etc.?
A: There are two things there. Number 1 is how meaningful your work is. If you are able to get involved in some really meaningful research and have a key role in that, whether it is an authorship role or something else, that is important. It shows that you’re able to do meaningful work to advance the field of dermatology. That said, I’m not saying it is not good to do case reports or anything, everything counts. The other side of the coin is that you need to have some track record of success. If you’re actually able to get something published or accepted, even if it’s not the most earth-shattering article, it still shows that you have the discipline and motivation to get something written up, submitted and the grit to get past maybe the initial rejection or revision. It’s important no matter what that you’re able to contribute to the scholarly field in dermatology and able to have the skillset to push something through into an article and journal. But at the same time if you’re involved in a huge clinical trial versus a case report is that better? For sure.
Q: How important is STEP 1? STEP 2?
A: We don’t put a ton of weight on STEP 2, typically because a lot of applicants don’t have it. At the end of the day it seems to be more useful to compare and contrast applicants based on something all applicants have. If only a small portion of applicants have STEP 2 it is tough to do that, it’s not really apples to apples. I think where STEP 2 can help though is if you had a less than optimal STEP 1. I think that it can show that it may have been a fluke and that you’re able to do well on standardized tests. But do we use that commonly? No. STEP 1 is a different story. It’s an important part of your application. For better or worse it’s used as an important tool in gauging academic aptitude and ability to be successful in obtaining board certification and things like that.
Q: How much of an impact do away rotators make? Does this have a heavier weight than their application?
A: It makes a huge difference. We have taken a lot of our rotators, one if not two in our past couple of years. At the end of the day it’s all about numbers. Every program is getting 400-500 applications, 2/3rds to 3/4ths being incredible superstars. With the limited number of interview spots how do you decide? Well the easy way is the people that have shown an interest to come down to your program to spend two weeks to a month at your program. And it also helps you determine if you like them or not. It’s definitely a huge factor. I would say if you’re able to rotate at a program you are really interested in, do so. Especially if it’s a program that may not be geographically in the same area that you are in. Often time programs will give geographical preference to someone who is from a neighboring area, thinking they may be more interested in coming to the area. Whereas if you are applying to a program 20 states away then you may not pop up on their radar unless you do an away rotation there.
Q: What advice do you have for away rotators?
A: I think the key there is to be interested, be engaged, but at the same time be cognizant of the fact that this program, this department, this machine was probably working just fine before you got there as well too. You want to make sure you’re not getting in the way, slowing people down and being kind to all the staff. Because at the end of the day you can either make people’s lives better or make people’s life worse. Fortunately, most of the rotators we’ve had have been great, helpful and we’ve really enjoyed having them. People comment on how helpful they have been in clinic. You definitely want to be seen as someone who makes a positive impact that people remember.
Q: What are the best letters of recommendation? Does it matter if it is the program director, the chair, the senior or junior faculty?
A: The most important thing is that the person knows you well. If the person does not know you well, it is pretty much impossible for them to write a strong letter for you, so I think that is the number one thing. In terms of how you ask, just ask if they feel comfortable writing a strong letter of recommendation for you. Really you can only do that once you know the person well. On your first day of the rotation you probably won’t get a good answer to that, who knows what they are going to write at that point. You want to wait until someone knows you well and that you have a strong relationship with them and then ask. If they say no or hesitate, then that is probably not the best person to write you a letter, but hopefully you can find some people that can write you a strong letter. Apart from that I think there is a little to be said about a person being a program director or a chair, but it may not be for the reason that you think it is. It’s not necessarily because of the title behind their name being a special stat. The reason is, let’s say you have someone who is even high up in the department, but is sequestered in a lab and doesn’t have a lot of interfacing with the medical students. They then may not be able to compare and contrast as well as someone who is a program director, assistant program director or chair. They on the other hand are working very closely with a lot of home program medical students and outside medical students. This allows them to make comparative statements. For example, if somebody says this is the best medical student that I’ve worked with in two years, or the top 5% of medical students that I’ve worked with or we really want to keep this medical student at our program, that can mean a little bit, because that person is really familiar with the application process and can give an informed opinion about that medical student.
Q: Is there any advice you would give that you wish you knew about when you were applying?
A: My advice is if you are interested in a program, let that program know. The easiest way to do that is maybe put something in your personal statement. If you just write a cookie cutter personal statement for each program well then programs are not going to have a real knowledge that you want to go there. Let them know you are really interested in their program for this particular reason. This lets them know that you are targeting a program for a reason and not that you are just applying to every program in the country.
Q: Lastly, tell me a little bit about Dell’s Dermatology Program
A: Dell’s dermatology program is a little bit of a smaller program with 9 residents, 3 per year. I think that in many ways it’s a strength. We are a close-knit program and have strong relationships between our faculty and residents. It’s a little bit more of an informal/casual feel here, which I think is a bit of a draw about our program. People seem to love the close-knit feel and working with all of the faculty. Even though we are small, we are strong in pediatric dermatology, we have an excellent MOHS surgeon and dermatopathologist. We have all our building blocks in place and are trying to grow and become the best program that we can.
Thank you, Dr. Ahmed, for your time and valuable advice!
Skin of Color Column
Eczema-An Itch That Needs To Be Scratched
By: Itisha Jefferson
Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine
DIGA Diversity of Dermatology Chair
Eczema is any noncontagious skin disorder that is characterized by inflammation, itching, and the formation of scales. According to nationaleczema.org, over 30 million Americans have eczema. Eczema is a general term that has several different types of categories such as atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and stasis dermatitis.
Eczema is the second most frequent skin disease in African Americans and is one of the most common skin disorders seen in infants and children overall.1,2 Data from the Centers for Disease Control shows roughly 11 percent of children experience eczema in the United States, with black children experiencing it more commonly (17.1 percent) than white children (11.2 percent) or Hispanic children (13.7 percent).3 A recent study published by Fischer et al, showed that among all children with eczema, non-Hispanic blacks were less likely than whites to report an ambulatory visit for eczema, despite suggestive of more severe disease.4
Typically, eczema is a red, dry, and itchy rash, but this appearance is common in lighter skin types. In brown or black skin, eczema may present itself as a darker brown, purple, or ashen grey in color.5 In the absence of erythema, skin swelling, warmth, dryness/scaling, or itching may help patients and physicians confirm the diagnosis.5 African Americans more commonly develop popular eczema or small bumps on the torso, arms and legs.5
It is also good to note that eczema can have a great impact on a person’s mental health. A recent survey by the National Eczema Association revealed that more than 30% of people with atopic dermatitis were diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety.6 Therefore, it is pertinent for physicians to ensure they ask their patients how their eczema has influenced their overall mental health, emotional and social well-being.
1. Halder, R.M., Grimes, P.E., McLaurin, C.I., Kress, M.A., & Kenney, J.A. (1983). Incidence of common dermatoses in a predominantly black dermatologic practice. Cutis, 32, 388-390.
2.Spergel JM, Paller AS. Atopic dermatitis and the atopic march. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology. 2003;112(6 Suppl):S118-27.
Sharing the Fun
University of Arizona Skin Cancer Awareness Fair
By: Lindsey LePoidevin
University of Arizona, College of Medicine - Tucson
DIGA Melanoma Awareness/Sun Protection Chair
Hello DIGs! My name is Lindsey and I am the new Melanoma and Sun Protection Chair for DIGA. I am super excited to be writing to you and wanted to take this opportunity to share a wonderful curriculum that you can easily bring to your school. The following outline can be adopted by any DIG that wants to add a new event to their repertoire and reach local youth.
- Goal: host 50-100 high school students for a half day of skin cancer awareness education and fun!
- Activity Ideas: research lab tours, simulation lab activities/tours, lecture style presentations, panel discussions, and other hands on activities.
- How: reach out to local high school science teachers and make it a field trip!
Stay tuned for our summer newsletter, which will include a more detailed outline of an itinerary that you can share with your school. That's all for now, thank you for reading!
By: Mai-Anh Vu
The University of Texas Medical Branch, School of Medicine - Galveston
DIGA Psoriasis Chair
Hello! My name is Mai-Anh Vu, and I am this year's DIGA Psoriasis Chair. I am very grateful to share with you our efforts this year on advocating psoriasis awareness!
The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) has been established for over 50 years. Through the efforts of hundreds of thousands of volunteers & generous sponsors, NPF hosts charitable athletic, social, and educational events all around the country to raise money & awareness to find a cure for psoriasis. Since 2007, we've raised over $10.5 million, and have only grown in philanthropic efforts since then!
This year, we'd love to have your institutional DIG get involved! If your DIG chapter participates in a regional NPF event, we will be sharing important takeaways & group photos in the following quarterly DIGA newsletter. I have included some phenomenal ways & upcoming events divided by region for your team to get involved with below:
- Team NPF Cycle in Napa Valley- June 9th (6:00 AM - 3:00 PM) Napa County Fairgrounds 1435 North Oak Street Calistoga, CA 94515
- Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon & Half Marathon - June 9 (6:00 AM - 5:00 PM). Seattle, WA.
- Frontiers in psoriatic disease: Research & treatments (LECTURE) - June 9th (9:30 AM - 12:30 PM). Sheraton Arlington Hotel 1500 Convention Center Drive Arlington, TX 76011
- Team NPF Cycle in New Jersey - June 16 (6:00 AM - 5:00 PM) Unionville Vineyards 9 Rocktown Road Ringoes, NJ 08551
- Team NPF Bingo in Philadelphia - June 21 (6:00 PM - 10:00 PM) Field House Philly 1150 Filbert Street Philadelphia, PA 19105
Should your DIGA chapter want to get involved but there is no NPF-sponsored event in your area, the foundation additionally allows us to create our own charitable page on the NPF website for external events (marathons, triathlons).
- Team NPF Bingo in Milwaukee - June 14 (5:30 PM - 9:00 PM) The Journeyman Hotel - Founders Rooftop Terrace 310 E. Chicago Street Milwaukee, WI 53202
Thank you for your time, and we are looking forward to seeing how you pave the way to help raise awareness & find a cure for psoriasis with us at DIGA!
Share your research! Upcoming Conferences and Abstract Submission Deadlines
14th Annual Coastal Dermatology Symposium
- Meeting Date: October 4-6th, 2018
- Meeting Location: Monterey, California
- Abstract Submission Deadline: August 20th, 2018
Pediatric Dermatology Research Alliance 2018 Annual Conference
- Meeting Date: October 25-17th, 2018
- Meeting Location: Aurora, Colorado
- Abstract Submission Deadline: August 20th, 2018
South Beach Symposium and Aesthetic Dermatology
- Meeting Date: February 7-10th, 2019
- Meeting Location: Miami Beach, Florida
- Abstract Submission Deadline: January 10th, 2019
The next edition of the DIGA newsletter will be in the Summer. For publication in our Summer 2018 newsletter, please submit the following by July 30th, 2018 to email@example.com:
> Short articles about your DIG's events and activities, accompanied by photos
> Research opportunities
> Creative writing or reflections
> Opportunities to increase medical student involvement within the dermatology community
We look forward to hearing from you! :)