Spotlight on: William W. Huang, MD, MPH, FAAD
Dr Huang is an associate professor and the residency program director at Wake Forest University School of Medicine Department of Dermatology. He attended North Carolina State University where he graduated as valedictorian with a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering. He earned his medical degree and master of public health degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed his internship in internal medicine at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University where he was named both Intern of the Year and Resident Teacher of the Year. He completed his residency in dermatology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, and served as chief resident in his final year. He has served on the ACGME Residency Review Committee (resident member), the American Board of Dermatology Pediatric Fellowship Review Committee (resident member), the Dermatology Foundation Leaders Society Campaign (NC, Chair), the Medical Dermatology Society Committee on Education and Programs, the AAD Young Physicians Committee, the North Carolina Dermatology Association Executive Committee, and the Dermatology Foundation Leaders Society Committee, Nominating Committee, and Board of Trustees. Dr Huang has received several teaching awards as a resident and faculty member. He has lectured regionally, nationally, and internationally on a broad range of topics pertaining to medical dermatology. He has authored more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and several book chapters. As a faculty member, he was selected for induction into Alpha Omega Alpha, has received the American Academy of Dermatology Cochrane Award, and has received a Dermatology Foundation Research Grant. His clinical interests and research focus on complex medical dermatology including autoimmune and autoinflammatory skin conditions.
Q. What part of your work gives you the most pleasure?
A. First and foremost, it is an honor to take care of patients and this has always remained the most important part of my career. Intimately intertwined with this work as a faculty member and residency program director of my department, teaching others to care for patients gives me the greatest satisfaction. Although the formal part of my education is over, I feel that I am constantly learning and, in turn, have the responsibility to teach. I have always held education in the highest esteem and am thankful for the many educators and mentors in my life. To take a very small part in the educational journey of someone else I feel is the greatest of honors. To work with someone as a student, a resident, and then years later see them successful in their own practice is the most rewarding part of my job by far.
Q. Are an understanding and appreciation of the humanities important in dermatology and why?
A. One of the earliest lessons I learned during my medical education is that the application of medical knowledge is a delicate balance of science, art, and communication. We should not forget the great honor and responsibility we take on when patients entrust us with their care when they walk through the doors of our clinic and hospital. For us, it is what we do day in and day out, but for our patients it is a unique often frightening experience full of uncertainties. Although within a particular specialty you may see the same diagnosis multiple times throughout your day, week, month, year, and career, every patient is different in their personal experience with their condition, perspective on their disease, treatment history, preference for treatment, understanding of their condition, tolerance for risk, etc. As a provider, we are tasked with translating our skill, training, and knowledge into care that is meaningful for the individual patient. This is where the art of medicine meets its science and an understanding and appreciation of the humanities is fundamental to being a caring and competent physician.
Q. What is your greatest regret?
A. I have few regrets as I am so thankful for where I am and to those who have helped me along the way. My path to medicine was not direct. Shortly after my parents immigrated to this country from Taiwan, I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. Without much money we grew up in humble circumstances, did not have doctors in our family, nor did we see doctors due to a lack of access to care. I worked long hours in our family’s Chinese restaurant business starting at an early age and daily felt the difficulty and challenges of growing up a minority in the South. Despite this, I always believed that through education and hard work anything would be possible—the American Dream. Admittedly I was not the strongest applicant to medical school and dermatology, and I feel extremely fortunate to be a physician in this wonderful specialty.
Looking back, if I were to do it all over again, I probably would have completed a full residency in internal medicine before dermatology. Nothing can replace a solid foundation in medicine and I feel that additional training in medicine would help make me a better dermatologist.
Q. Who was your mentor/hero and why?
A. At the risk of sounding cliché, my heroes are really my parents. Both highly educated and in good work positions, they left the life they knew, their family and friends, and country to immigrate to the United States. Not knowing the language well, with few contacts in this country, and with little in terms of financial resources, they took a risk, built their own business, and successfully put their 3 children through college (and beyond) so that our path would be different (and hopefully better) than their own—the American Dream. I am unsure if I would have such bravery and insight if I were in their position today. Thank you Ma and Ba!
In dermatology, I have so many people who have helped me along my journey. Early on, I credit Dr Kelly Nelson for introducing me to the specialty and for encouraging me to apply. As a medical student who was not an “ideal candidate” for dermatology, Dr Dean Morrell helped me tremendously through the application and Match process, and is a big reason I chose to become a program director. As a resident, Dr Michael Tharp and the faculty at Rush University Medical Center solidified my commitment to academic medicine and medical dermatology. Now as a young faculty member, I am fortunate to have Dr Joseph Jorizzo and Dr Steve Feldman serve as my mentors and role models within the department, and Dr Amit Garg has been an outstanding mentor outside my department. I truly would not be here without their dedication and commitment to me and my career.
Q. What is the best piece of advice you have received and from whom?
A. One of my basketball coaches would always wear this sweatshirt that said, “It’s all about perspective.” At the time I did not really understand it, but now I find myself coming back to this simple yet powerful piece of advice often. It is my belief that it is human nature to complain and think about how this thing and that situation in our life/work/family could be better or how something is unfair. It feels good to gossip or unload to someone else how we have felt wronged by something or someone. If we would take a moment to step back and see how fortunate we truly are, that can make all the difference in the world on how we feel. In addition, I have learned (the hard way) that there are always multiple sides to a story. Understanding where another person is coming from will almost always help you understand how to engage in meaningful dialogue where compromise can occur. It’s all about perspective!
Q. What is the greatest political danger in the field of dermatology?
A. Complacency and lack of engagement. Despite what is happening politically today, we can always count on changes and challenges to health care tomorrow. Multiple organizations are constantly working on our behalf as dermatologists to maintain our seat in the house of medicine, ensure fair compensation for our work, support and maintain tomorrow’s researchers, educators, and leaders, making our voices heard on Capitol Hill, etc. However, they cannot do it alone. Whether it is time, money, energy, or talent, our specialty needs you. It can be so easy to think that someone else will do the work. If we do not support and ensure the future of our specialty, who will?
Dr Barankin is a dermatologist in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is author-editor of 7 books in dermatology and is widely published in the dermatology and humanities literature.