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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. DIGA's goal is to connect students interested in dermatology and provide information on opportunities and events in the field. 

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You can also access archived issues of Dermatology Advocate, a bi-weekly e-newsletter dedicated to providing news about advocacy issues affecting dermatology. Coverage includes congressional actions, federal agency and administration activities, state-level legislative and regulatory news actions by private payers, and information about how to get involved in advocacy efforts. You need to be an AAD member in order to get the emails sent directly to your inbox, but you can access the newsletters on the web here
Special Feature: The Journey to Dermatology Residency

An interview by Joseph Aleshaki (DIGA's Professional Societies Liaison) with Dr. Kurt Ashack, a prelim intern starting dermatology residency at UIC in 2017. 

JA: Tell me about yourself. What made you interested in dermatology? 
KA: I went to Hope College in Holland, MI for my undergraduate degree. I received a B.A. in Chemistry, with hopes of attending medical school, however, this was a failed attempt. I knew that I wanted to pursue medicine, so I continued with higher education. I next completed a 2 year masters in Biomedical Science where I strengthened my background in the sciences, and broadened my resume by completing a thesis in Immunology, tutored Immunology and Histology, all while working as a technician in a level 1 trauma ED. I next applied to medical school for the second time, and successfully became a student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.
While in medical school, Immunology and Histology remained my favorite subjects. I continued to tutor in these fields and knew that whatever field of medicine I practiced in, I wanted these two subjects to be incorporated. Additionally, my biggest role model, my father, is a dermatologist, which sparked my interest as I felt as if I already knew something about the field. After an AMA specialty aptitude test and some research of my own, I found that dermatology was the perfect fit for me.  I knew the field was competitive, so I started shadowing and attempting to conduct research projects from my first year of medical school. The skin fascinated me, and I loved how many of the conditions we learned about in first and second year usually presented with some sort of unique skin finding. This excitement propelled me towards dermatology as I headed into my clinical rotations.
When I began my third year, I did not want to stay closed minded when starting my clinical rotations. I gave every core rotation an honest shot. With each rotating, I took notes about what I liked and what I didn’t like. With Internal Medicine, I loved connecting with all of my patients, but I felt that I needed continuity after they were discharged. In my surgery rotation, I loved working with my hands, suturing port sites and performing punch biopsies. In my OB rotation, I was able to do 1 week of pathology, and I absolutely loved looking under the microscope, but did not like that I never saw the lesion or spoke to the patient. Finally, I loved my pediatric rotation, so I knew I wanted to work with kids. I then completed a 1 -month elective rotation in a private practice dermatology office and I fell in love with the field. All of the above aspects were incorporated into every day and the excitement was endless. This ultimately pushed me into applying to dermatology residencies.

JA: What on your application did you feel help you stand out from other applicants?
KA: In order to stand out in dermatology, you have to do two things. The first is to have high marks on your Step exams and achieve clinical honors. In the field of dermatology, everyone is extremely smart and competitive. In order to compete with the best, you have to have the scores in order to give you a chance. You don’t have to have an outrageously high Step 1 score, but a 240 or above was my goal to reach. Step 2 I felt did not matter as much, but it can only help you to do better, especially if your Step 1 is on the lower end.
Second, you need to be well rounded. While research is the only thing that you are told to care about for competitive specialties, it is not the only thing. Yes, some programs are more research heavy than others and may only interview you if you have x number of publications, presentations, etc. However, there are just as many excellent programs that care less about the amount of research a student has and care more about what else the applicant has done. For me, I volunteered with several different organizations for countless hours all throughout medical school. This gave me a unique perspective and plenty of non-academic examples when interviewing. I also worked hard to ensure that I had above the average number of publications, presentations, projects etc. I used the most recent NRMP Charting Outcomes in the Match and made sure I went above each of the average numbers on there. For me research was not easy to come by as my medical school did not have a dermatology program. In order to change this, I applied to a research elective that taught me about conducting research, strengthened my application with a number of projects, allowed me to find a dermatology mentor who I continue to work with today, and also see patients in clinic when I was not conducting research. It was an excellent opportunity, and that definitely gave me an edge when it came to applications and interview season.
I also believe that strong letters of recommendations from dermatologists at away rotations is helpful. Additionally, performing exceptionally well on an away rotation, demonstrating that you are a normal person genuinely interested in dermatology and are friendly to staff, patients, residents and can get along with people, goes a long way.

JA: What made you rank UIC's program higher than others?
KA: To first answer this question, I must preface it with the fact that I couples matched with my wife who is going into Radiation Oncology. Therefore, we went on many interviews, spent a lot of money on interviews, and had a difficult time making our rank list as we both liked different programs for different reasons and had to come to some sort of consensus in order to make matching rank lists. Additionally, due to the competitive nature of dermatology, most applicants don’t always have a say in which program they will go to. Regardless of this, you are very lucky if you match into derm at any program, as it is one of the few specialties with close to a 50% match rate, one of the lowest match rates of any specialty. Additionally, there are not really any bad dermatology programs, strengthening the reason for being lucky to match into dermatology in general.
For my wife and I, Chicago was close to our families, still in the Midwest, and a big city with lots to do. In terms of programs, UIC stood out to me for several reasons. First, when I interviewed at the program, I left with the impression that I would fit in well with the residents given our similar personalities and interests. All of the staff were great, extremely knowledgeable, and made me feel welcome. They also had two VA hospitals, a feature that is very rare to come by in dermatology. This allows for more autonomy and hands on experience, something I was looking for in a program. I got the sense that I would learn dermatology, and also get an enormous amount of hands on experience to prepare me as the excellent clinical dermatologist I hope to be. There were research opportunities, as many of the residents and faculty were actively involved in research, something else I was looking for in a program. To be completely honest and to reiterate, there are no bad dermatology programs, so go where you feel you fit in best and where your personality matches that of the residents, faculty, and staff. There are programs that are research heavy, surgery heavy, dermpath heavy, pediatric derm heavy, and cosmetics heavy. You can also seek these programs out as well if you already have an interest in a dermatologic subspecialty. Just make sure it is a place you will fit in and be happy every day at.

JA: What do you wish you could have done better to prepare for residency, or to make the transition easier (MS4 electives, etc.)?
KA: Honestly, nothing. I did a lot of dermatology away rotations in the beginning of the year, my required rotations for my 4th year, a few unrelated electives, and made great use of my vacation months. It all depends on your personality. For me, I worked very hard throughout medical school and knew that I would pick things back up quickly when residency started without going through a bunch of vigorous electives. I figured I would work hard during my TY to learn all of the core aspects of medicine and my next program will teach me how to become a dermatologist. Time will tell how that works out; everyone has their own opinion and choice of how to go about this!
The next edition of the DIGA newsletter will be in the fall. For publication in our Winter 2017 newsletter, please submit the following by January 15, 2017 to

> 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! :) 
DIGA Board
Paras Vakharia

Vice Presidents
Tim Michaelis
Christina Ring

Lisa Akintilo

Residency Interview Database Director
Lauren Williams

David Kakish

Regional Directors
Shane Swink

Amanda Truong

April Yu

Kristyna Gleghorn

Committee Chairs
Diversity in Dermatology Chair
Cristian Gonzalez

Melanoma Chair
Nicholas Castner

Professional Societies Liaison
Joseph Aleshaki

Psoriasis Chair
John Zade

Public Relations and Social Media Chair
Angela Mujukian

Sun Protection Chairs
Amir Varedi
Chelsey Vranes
Upcoming Conferences
Access a complete list of dermatology events by visiting the AAD Calendar.

3/3/17 - 3/7/17
2017 AAD Annual Meeting - Orlando, FL

5/6/17 - 5/7/17
Skin of Color Seminar Series - New York, NY
Copyright © 2016 Dermatology Interest Group Association, All rights reserved.

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