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SPOTLIGHT on Frances J. Storrs, M.D.

SPOTLIGHT on Frances J. Storrs, M.D.


Dr. Frances Storrs was raised in Spokane, WA, where both of her parents were general practitioners who practiced in the same office. She graduated from Carleton College in Minnesota and Cornell University Medical College in New York City (now known as Weill Cornell Medical College).

She returned to the West and trained in dermatology with Dr. Walter C. Lobitz Jr. in Oregon (and was the first woman he had trained). Dr. Lobitz, along with Dr. Raymond Suskind, suggested that she focus on contact dermatitis, and she was invited to join the Oregon faculty. She did, and never left.

Dr. Storrs has won numerous awards, including: The Fisher lectureship for the American Contact Dermatitis Society, the Rose Hirschler award and the first Mentorship award of the Women’s Dermatology Society, the Master in Dermatology award of the American Academy of Dermatology and the Citizen of the Year Award of the City Club of Portland.

Her family, garden, women’s issues and civic involvement have otherwise occupied her life, which she acknowledges has been one of great delight.

Q. Why did you choose dermatology?

A. When I was a medical student, I asked an endocrinologist what specialty he would like his wife to pursue. He noted that dermatology was little visited by women, and in his view it would be perfect.

Because my own parents were often gone from home at the same time on medical endeavors, I was afraid I might marry a physician (I didn’t; I married an architect.) and confront the same challenges to a home life that I had known as a child.

Dermatology, with perhaps a more stable evening life, seemed perfect, and I resolved to enter it. The soon-to-be- learned pleasures of the specialty had nothing to do with my selection.

Q. Which patient has had the most effect on your work, and why?

A. I remember a woman who had horrid psoriatic arthritis, yet she had no involvement at all in her fingers, where she wore rings, or in her wrist, where she wore a copper bracelet. She made me mindful of the enigmas that surround medical “science.”

A young man with xeroderma pigmentosum whom I followed and treated from his birth to his death as a teenager taught me how severe cutaneous illness — or any illness — can affect entire families.

A patient of mine who had epidermolysis bullosa who “never got a holiday” from his disease taught me the utter devastation that cutaneous illness can bring.

Hopefully these and other experiences have made me a more compassionate physician and dermatologist.

Q. Have you had a “15-minutes-of-fame” moment, and how did it come about?

A. Thirty-three years ago, I was invited to an elegant private club for a dinner composed of “prominent” physicians in my area to honor Harvey Blank.

The club accepted no Jews, women or people of color as members and didn’t allow women through the door.

My friend, Paul Russell, took me. Shortly after we were admitted, I was asked to leave — or, we were told, the drinks and dinner would be terminated. Paul took my arm and we descended a long staircase and left.

The local press spent a lot of ink on the event, and I was indeed “famous” overnight.

My life changed after this event. I joined the American Civil Liberties Union and became a state officer. I chaired the medical school’s affirmative action committee.

Through these experiences, a lifetime of conservative influence dissolved, and I saw the world through a suddenly opened window shade. I got to feel what it was like to be an outsider.

I also learned that in my community I couldn’t be “prominent” because I had no penis.

For me, this was a wondrous life-changing experience. Many in my community still remember me as “the woman who was thrown out of the Arlington Club.” Interestingly, the club only began admitting women about 10 years ago.

For me, this whole experience provided me with a unique exercise in understanding the irrational nature of discrimination — a lesson for which I will always be grateful.

Q. What do you think is the greatest political danger to the field of dermatology?

A. I feel that dermatology is creating its own danger by diluting its medical content with an increasing focus on inane cosmetic pursuits.

The content and expertise resident in our specialty that makes us so valuable to patients and colleagues are too often being replaced by dermatologists with practices limited to lasers, Botox, and liposuction — “retail” dermatologists as one of my patients recently called such physicians.

This emphasis is certainly not universal. However, its magnitude, I think, will make it increasingly difficult for us to barter successfully in authentic medical political conversations and disputes.


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