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Spotlight on: Haines Ely, MD

Spotlight on: Haines Ely, MD

In dermatology, we are fortunate to have many insightful practitioners and great teachers and mentors. Some are bright stars in our special universe — others unsung heroes. All of these colleagues have much to share from wisdom to humor to insights into dermatology and life. This column allows us to gain insight from these practitioners and learn more about them.

Dr. Haines Ely’s biography is really the story of the wonderful people who have helped and taught him all his life. His parents were “old” when he was born and his aunts and uncles were in their 80s when he was a child. His best friends and teachers when he was young were Col. James E. Ash, Buckminster Fuller, Dhyanyogi Madhusudandas, and Bob Monroe. He took it for granted that older people were the norm, since these old (but now famous) people took such an interest in him. He did his dermatology residency at USC-LA County Hospital (1971 to 1975). At USC, Tom Brem, Chief of Medicine, took Haines under his wing and taught him physical diagnosis. During his dermatology residency at USC, he had the greatest teachers of dermatology surgery and therapy: Don Lindsey, Chet Sidell, Murray Zimmerman, John Chrissey, Bernie Gottlieb, Marge Bauer, and Tom Rea. He subsequently learned Mohs surgery from Sam Stegman. Dr. Ely practices general dermatology, lots of derm surgery, and reads his own slides. He has written a few therapy articles and book chapters, but spends most of his writing time on Rxderm, a dermatology internet chat group.

Q. Why did you choose dermatology?

A. My father always said “Son, stick with “ologies.” My first teacher of dermatology, John Chrissey, had such a good sense of humor that I thought it must be something to do with his specialty.

Q. Other than your family, what are you most proud of in your personal life? Professional life?

A. Personal life: I do a weekly radio show which has allowed me to talk to some of the most interesting people in the world. Professional life: I think winning the Nelson Paul Anderson memorial essay contest in 1979 during the Annual Meeting of the Pacific Dermatologic Association (PDA) was a high point. I “discovered” the bowel bypass syndrome, its “cause,” and reproduced the syndrome by injecting bacterial peptidoglycans into my patients. I accomplished this as a solo practitioner, without any academic or financial support, before there was one word in the world literature. Gus Rees (Rees B. Rees) said to me afterward, “Haines, what are you going to do for an encore? You know this is the Nobel prize of dermatology.” (At that time, the PDA meeting was the second largest annual meeting after the American Academy of Dermatology [AAD]) Also, in 1996 I gave the “What’s New in Dermatologic Therapy” session at the annual meeting of the AAD. My talk was on diseases caused by an excess of tumor necrosis factor and how to cure them using readily available TNF inhibitors. People in the audience told me I was crazy.

Q. What is the best piece of advice you have received, and from whom?

A. “Son, no matter howS loud the baby is crying, he’s not crying for his father.” — From my father, Northcutt Ely

Q. What medical figure from history would you most like to have a drink with? Why?

A. Walter Shelley. I got together with him every chance I got, just to hear his thoughts. (He didn’t drink.) John McCarthy asked me to take over Dr. Shelley’s column in Cutis, but after John died the new editors weren’t interested.

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

A. Greed and dishonesty. Anyone who sells a patient anything will surely be corrupted. My mother often said, “Fools’ names and fools’ faces appear in public places.” In my opinion, advertising, infomercials and cosmeceutical practices should be eschewed by real dermatologists. Dr. Barankin is a dermatologist based in Toronto, Canada. He is author-editor of five books in dermatology, and is widely published in the dermatology and humanities literature. He is also co-editor of Dermanities (, an online journal devoted to the humanities as they relate to dermatology.

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