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A Conversation With Seemal R. Desai, MD, FAAD

A Conversation With Seemal R. Desai, MD, FAAD

Dr DesaiDr Desai is a diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology and president and medical director of Innovative Dermatology in Plano, TX. He runs two private clinics and is on the academic faculty at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center as clinical assistant professor of dermatology. He has held numerous leadership positions within medicine and is the current president of the Skin of Color Society, president of the Texas Dermatological Society and was elected to the board of directors of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). 


Q. What part of your work gives you the most pleasure?
A.
Making a patient truly feel good about their skin and providing hope to those when hope was lost. This is particularly important in my patients with skin of color and pigmentary disorders. I specialize in skin of color and pigmentation disorders, so I often see recalcitrant vitiligo, melasma, pigmentary disorders, among others. While they have seen other great dermatologists, these patients have lost hope. I try to relate to them given my family experience with pigmentary disorders, and I think this goes a long way. 

Q. Are an understanding and appreciation of the humanities important in dermatology and why?
A.
Absolutely. In fact, I double majored in college in both chemistry and French and have an undergraduate degree in both. My interest in languages plus study and fluency of French has not only allowed me the practical part of being able to communicate with francophone patients, but more importantly realize the importance of cultural stigmata, interpersonal relationships, and significance of skin findings in different cultures.

Q. What is your greatest regret?
A.
I spent a year off between undergraduate studies and medical school and worked in the airline industry travelling the world, using languages, and exploring cultures. It was amazing to have this experience knowing that I had a time limit because of the start of medical school. Looking back, I would have taken one more year to really explore more, because that time in my life is not something I could replicate. 

My other regret is not having had the chance to meet my wife earlier in my life and get married maybe a couple of years sooner than I did!

Q. Who was your hero/mentor and why?  
A.
Boni Elewski, MD, has been true mentor, supporter, colleague, friend, and truly someone I consider family. She has always been tough with me: at times when it was hard to handle and at times when I needed it. For that, I am grateful. I think she saw my leadership potential when I was interviewing with her as a resident, and she has been a constant in my life for the past 13+ years of my career. She is truly wonderful! 

Q. Which patient had the most effect on your work and why? 
A.
Well not my patient per se, but my brother, who was diagnosed with vitiligo in 1990 and is the reason I became a dermatologist specializing in pigmentary disorders, was the source of my family’s exposure to vitiligo from an early point in my life. He is an amazing person and now a physician himself. Vitiligo is complex as well as culturally significant because I am of Indian background, and the disease is powerful not just for the one affected but us all.

Q. What is the best piece of advice you have received and from whom? 
A.
Family is the most important thing. I believe that in my heart. I will admit, I may not remember that always when I am gallivanting across the world giving lectures on pigmentation, attending leadership meetings, and advocacy events in Washington, but without my family, I am nothing. I am so blessed to have an amazing wife and my beautiful children. Wow! How lucky am I? Maybe I should I ask myself that question more frequently!  

Q. Which medical figure in history would you want to have a drink with and why?
A.
I always want to meet up and have a drink with Jim Nordlund, MD, and Pearl Grimes, MD. Dr Nordlund is a retired dermatologist in Cincinnati, OH, and remains one of the world leaders in vitiligo. He was the treating physician for my brother for over a decade, back in the 1990s when very few dermatologists were specializing in dermatology. He is a pioneer and one my heroes. Dr Grimes is a mentor, friend, and amazing person. I have known her since my residency days, and the amount of time and energy she devotes to our specialty and vitiligo makes me truly believe that she will go down in history as a true historical leader in pigmentary disorders. They are medical figures that are still alive and well, and I am proud to call them my friends.

Q. What is the greatest political danger in the field of dermatology?
A.
Not protecting our specialty from threats in other parts of medicine. I am active in organized medicine, including the AMA, AAD, ASDS, and so many other organizations. My greatest belief is that we have to continue to show the relevance of dermatologists to the whole medical world and public to continue fighting for our turf. There are so many others out willing to poach away our patients, our expertise, and advertise themselves as dermatologists, when they could only wish to be board-certified dermatologists!

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