A Lack of Diversity in Dermatology

Studies show a startling lack of diversity and representation in the medical field. Dermatology, a notably competitive area of medicine, is no exception to that rule. Historically, dermatology has been a white dominated subsection with fewer than 10% of providers being physicians of color. Some professionals in the industry believe that this could be partially due to the competitive and relatively high cost of obtaining a degree in dermatology versus other medical areas of study. Studies also show that due to some socioeconomic factors, minority students are more likely to test lower and, in some cases, are less likely to receive admission into study programs than white students. The issue of bias seems to begin in medical school and carries over into the clinic room.

Disparities in Diagnosis

The lack of ethnic diversity often means a lack of insight and cultural sensitivity for many patients of color suffering from hair, skin or nail disorders. A dermatologist not trained in treating other ethnicities may not understand how certain conditions look on skin or hair of color and may be more likely to misdiagnose or issue an ineffective treatment. In addition, physicians of color can recognize cultural beauty standards and biases that cause people of color to feel overlooked or isolated.

According to surveys, many people of color agreed that they felt more comfortable seeing a dermatologist that looked like them and were more confident in an accurate diagnosis as a physician of color is more likely to understand the differences associated with hair and skin of color. In not fully representing your patient base, you risk isolating a part of the community in which you serve in.

Another troubling issue is that some patients have experienced discrimination from non POC physicians who showed discomfort touching skin of color or avoided contact entirely, creating a sterile and apathetic atmosphere that made patients feel frustrated or embarrassed.

Steps in the Right Direction

Fortunately, there are programs being set in place to help increase diversity in the field of dermatology such as the American Academy of Dermatology’s Minority Mentorship Program which pairs underrepresented students with dermatologists in the field. According to Amit Pandya, MD, the former chair of the AAD’s Diversity Taskforce, they are working to make the application process more qualitative as opposed to solely based on test scores, steps that would assist minority students in reaching milestones in dermatology.

We at Skin Solutions Dermatology are committed to providing a personalized treatment regimen for each of our patients with hair loss and/or hair disorders.  Special considerations must be made when approaching these treatments, as hair shaft structure, shape and thickness differ among patients of various ethnicities and geographical regions.  In our clinics, we address a wide variety of textures, colors and styles of hair so it is imperative that we tailor treatments to the individual to ensure best outcomes. During her residency in New Orleans, our very own hair loss expert Dr. Belaidi saw and treated many patients of color. She became very comfortable treating hair and scalp conditions that were more prevalent among POCs. To further her research and understanding of these conditions, she will be attending the Cicatricial Alopecia Research Foundation Meeting here in Nashville (which was rescheduled for November due to COVID-19).




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Dr Pena

About The Author

Dr. Pena is a Board-Certified Medical Dermatologist, Mohs skin cancer surgeon, and cosmetic dermatologist. Her mission is to educate the diverse patient populations she serves, and their communities, on the importance of skin care in decreasing the risk of skin cancer and minimizing the early signs of aging. She founded Skin Solutions Dermatology with numerous clinics in Nashville, Tennessee and surrounding Middle Tennessee.

Dr. Julia Pena, MD

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