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. Guenther is a professor of dermatology at The University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada, a fellow of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and board-certified in the United States. She received her MD from The University of Western Ontario and completed her dermatology residency training at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. She has been involved in more than 100 research projects since 1980 and is the medical director of The Guenther Dermatology Research Centre in London, Ontario, Canada. She was the President of the Canadian Society for Dermatologic Surgery from 2001 to 2003, and in 2004 chaired the Canadian Expert panel for the treatment of moderate-to-severe psoriasis. Dr. Guenther has more than 200 publications, is a reviewer for a number of journals and has been the medical editor of Dermatology Times of Canada since 1998. She has acted as an advisor to Health Canada, the Drug Quality and Therapeutics Committee for Ontario, the Canadian Medical Protective Association, the Canadian Cancer Society and many pharmaceutical companies. Dr.Guenther enjoys teaching, lectures locally, provincially, nationally and internationally, and won a certificate of appreciation for excellence in undergraduate medical education. In 2007, she was voted “Best Doctor” by peers. Since 1998, she has developed and organized a yearly Sun Awareness program that medical students, initially from the University of Western Ontario, and now from all the Ontario medical schools, deliver to fourth-grade students across the province.
Q. What part of your work gives you the most pleasure?
A. It is most rewarding to help patients with their problems, then see their lives and personalities transform when their skin conditions clear. I also enjoy interacting with bright, enthusiastic colleagues and students, and seeing students blossom as caring physicians, then as mentors for other students.
Q. Do you recall a memorable patient encounter and what you learned from it?
A. At the University of Western Ontario, the first- and second-year medical students have a weekly “Case of the Week.” Last year, I presented a delightful man with plaque psoriasis on his elbows, knuckles, knees and scalp as well as nail pitting and onycholysis. When the students were developing their topics for discussion in their small group sessions, they elected to discuss how one handles “patients that repulse you.” I was completely shocked since I had never viewed psoriasis as a repulsive disease. It appears that even educated people who are in the medical profession — the medical students — appear to view this disease as repulsive. I then realized what our patients have to cope with on a daily basis and how the reaction of other individuals to the physical appearance of the disease could affect their self-esteem and quality of life.
Q. What is the best piece of advice you have received and from whom?
A. My husband Wolfgang recommended picking a career that I loved since it is the activity in which one spends most of one’s waking hours. I picked dermatology and have never looked back.
Q. How do you envision the future of dermatology?
A. In the next few years, as the majority of Canadian dermatologists reach retirement age, there will be a large reduction in the number of dermatologists in Canada. Government is starting to realize that there is a need for more trainees, but the number of training positions is not keeping pace with the number of retiring dermatologists. More dermatologists will be involved in cosmetic dermatology and newer graduates will work fewer hours and see fewer patients than the ones who graduated more than 20 years ago. The differential in workload will further decrease accessibility to dermatologists. Research in dermatology, particularly in psoriasis, has exploded over the past 5 to10 years and will likely continue for at least another 5 to 10 years.
Q. Outside of work, what are you most passionate about in life?
A. I am most passionate about my family, architecture and interior design, and my pianos. 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 (dermanities.com), an online journal devoted to the humanities as they relate to dermatology.