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.
Spotlight on: Mark Valentine, MD
Dr. Valentine grew up in rural West Virginia during the tranquil fifties and the turbulent sixties, graduated from West Virginia University in 1970, and received his medical degree from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1974. At Hopkins, he was inspired by the relatively arcane breadth of knowledge of Dr. George Hambrick, professor of dermatology. He conducted his postgraduate training in medicine and dermatology at University Hospitals of Cleveland, where he was impressed with Professor Beno Michel and his proficiency in all aspects of research, teaching, patient care and dermatopathology. In 1979, he moved to Everett, Washington, and has been a solo practitioner of general dermatology for almost 34 years. As a clinical professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, he has special interests in the management of psoriasis and diagnosis of contact dermatitis. Dr. Valentine is also an avid collector of medical books, and has written and lectured on the history of dermatology. His nonmedical pursuits include playing guitar and the restoration and rebinding of old books. He will be president of the Everett Rotary Club in 2014-2015.
Q. What part of your work gives you the most pleasure?
A. Without question it is the gratitude of my patients, who are often extremely appreciative of any help I am able to render. I enjoy my work, am well paid and have pleasant conversation all day long with my patients. Many dermatologists derive fulfillment from their understanding and contributions to the science of the specialty, but for me it is the application of that knowledge to individuals that is central to my joy in dermatology.
Q. Are an understanding and appreciation of the humanities important in dermatology and why?
A. It certainly is for anyone actively involved in patient care. A robot, no matter how well programmed, cannot supply the critical human element in the doctor-patient relationship. Patients value music, art, dance, theatre, religion, sports, nature, carpentry, mechanical sciences and dozens of other passions, and unless we appreciate this, we cannot connect with them as human beings.
Q. What is your greatest regret?
A. I try hard not to dwell on what might have been or what was not. Of course I want to learn from my mistakes, but beyond that I choose not to spend too much energy on it. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” but perhaps I am not ready for that. I do not demean those who are more introspective, but to me it is a waste of precious emotional energy.
Q. Which patient had the most effect on your work and why?
A. I will not cite a specific individual, but like most dermatologists I have had some melanomas pop up where I did not expect them, and the longer I practice, the more paranoid I become about skin neoplasms. Somehow they seemed so much simpler when I first finished my training.
Q. What is the best piece of advice you have received and from whom?
A. My father was a quiet, amiable Italian immigrant with minimal education. One of his favorite sayings was “Live and let live.” Dr. John Money at Johns Hopkins reinforced this sentiment by repeatedly reminding students in his human sexuality lectures that doctors must work to remain nonjudgmental. Also, an article on practice management, discussing management of difficult employees and patients, taught me “the very thing that drives you crazy may be the thing that keeps them sane.” When I enter a room with a new patient, foremost in my mind is the thought that “this is a person I’m really going to like.” It does not always turn out that way, of course, but I want to give people every chance and not prejudge them on narrow or superficial grounds.
Q. Which medical figure in history would you want to have a drink with and why?
A. It almost seems trite because so many other doctors have said the same, but I could not do better than Sir William Osler. Osler was a paragon of humanism, an idealist, yes, but one who understood mankind’s limitations and foibles. If I sat down with Hebra or Virchow, I would be too intimidated and ashamed of my shortcomings to speak (of course, conversing in German would also be a problem). But Osler does not seem so intimidating. He was brilliant and hard working, but had a whimsical sense of humor, and was not only respected but widely loved.
Q. What is the greatest political danger in the field of dermatology?
A. I do not have any wisdom to impart, other than “don’t panic.” One thing I have learned over my years of practice is that no matter how ridiculous the political and regulatory environment seems, common sense eventually enters the picture and will rectify (or at least ameliorate) many of the more extreme follies. n
Dr. Barankin is a dermatologist in Toronto, Canada. He is author-editor of six 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.