As physicians we have a unique ability to provide care, comfort and our expertise to patients on an individual basis. However, being able to partner with organizations dedicated to a particular disease or diseases is a way to make an impact for a larger group of people beyond our immediate patient population. It’s an important way to make sure our care extends as far as we can stretch it.
Since my days in high school, volunteering gave me an important understanding of the impact a medical provider can have beyond the classroom and exam room. Early on I got involved in a volunteer program at a brain tumor center. The program paired pediatric patients with medical students who acted as big brothers or sisters to observe how they were handling their care. Eventually, we were able to purchase disposable cameras that the patients used to document their emotions, thoughts, and lives outside the clinic and hospital as they underwent treatment. The scrapbooks acted as a form of therapeutic expression for them and allow others to observe what these pediatric patients were experiencing. That experience and value it added to patient care and education really taught me the importance of getting involved in volunteer programs.
Something I’ve carried with me from that opportunity is the power of observation. By pairing with these children and reviewing their scrapbooks, we were able to observe their experience, learn from it, and make more informed medical decisions. As I left medical school and started my career as a Dermatologist, the importance of observation became very apparent.
When detecting and treating skin cancer, it starts with what we see or observe. But dermatologists can only observe what is near them. We need help from friends, family members, and other individuals in observing and identifying potential trouble spots.
A great example of this is hair stylists. Just in the past few years, two separate hair stylists observed ‘funny moles’ on their clients. After sending those clients to our clinic we diagnosed and treated melanoma. For these patients, the early detection of their “funny moles” led to a simple removal with a complete recovery. But, had those stylists not observed their scalps and sent them our way, their diagnosis could have progressed into something more dangerous. Not all hairstylists are aware of the role they can play in early detection. It’s thanks – in part – to the awareness built by foundations like the Polka Dot Mama. Their community outreach helps educate more people about how to detect skin cancer and understand warning signs.
When I first met Tracy Callahan (founder of Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation), what caught my attention was her energy. She has always been very passionate about getting the word out about melanoma prevention and early detection. For medical professionals like myself, she’s able to raise funding for research, and create incredible events where we can get out of our clinic and observe and screen thousands of new patients.
Our practice – North Carolina Dermatology Associates – continues to support Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation at free monthly melanoma screenings. We also joined other medical providers in the area to support the world’s largest skin cancer screening, which broke the Guinness Book of World Records in 2019. Through these events, we have been able to detect melanoma earlier and improve patient outcomes. It’s all about connecting with people outside of our clinic to check their skin and teach them to observe and monitor any changes.