Jessica R. Caruso '23 | October 1, 2020
I sought out the five MU-COM alumni who matched into dermatology to learn more about how and why they chose to pursue this field. All five alumni agreed to answer my questions in hopes of helping students. Dr. Ben Farthing '17 and Dr. Sonya Zarkhin '17, both part of the first MU-COM graduating class, discussed the diverse nature of dermatology. From the class of 2018, Dr. Joseph Aleshaki and Dr. Robert Dazé highlighted the need for passion. Finally, Dr. Samantha Pfeifer '19 gave insight on the humanity of the profession.
How did you choose dermatology?
It's important for everyone to determine who they are, who they want to be, and what they want to do every day. Each person’s story helps them find their path, and I was curious how these MU-COM alumni found their ways to dermatology. Some of the physicians answered that dermatology has been a long-term dream, while others found their passion during medical school.
Dr. Dazé '18: I actually chose dermatology prior to medical school. I worked as a makeup artist for Laura Mercier at Nordstrom for seven years prior to medical school. It was a formative experience and provided a source of inspiration for me to choose dermatology. I did keep an open mind throughout all four years, because I knew it would be premature to not have other options or consider other specialties. At one point in my journey, I considered OBGYN. However, after my rotation in dermatology during my third year, I made a conscious decision to pursue it as my primary specialty. At the end of the day, dermatology resonated with my passions and drive and I knew it would be the best fit for me.
Dr. Zarkhin '17: I tried to give every field a fair chance. This is important because most of them come up when practicing dermatology. For me it came down to comfort. I knew I wanted to be a specialist, because I wanted to be the master of my domain. Also, I liked the pace of dermatology. A lot can be accomplished in one visit. If need be, you can take a biopsy and have an answer in 2-3 days. For me that was key to having a practice that not only kept me on my toes, but also gave patients the comfort of knowing right away what their diagnosis was.
Dr. Farthing '17: I chose dermatology for several reasons. I enjoy the mixed medical and procedural aspect of dermatology. I highly value time with family, and dermatology is one of the best areas for this. I like the mean low acuity of the patients managed in dermatology, because I like to have time to fully think about something before having to do or recommend anything.
Dr. Aleshaki '18: As a teenager in high school I had acne that appeared very red on my face which earned me an unfortunate nickname. I was seeing a dermatologist who was able to resolve my acne fairly quickly. I enjoyed what he did and it got me thinking about what I wanted to do as a career. At the time, I wasn’t sure. I come from a family of engineers, so I thought I would follow suit. But after discussing it with a good friend of mine who was going into medicine and his father, a physician, they believed I would make a good physician. So I always kept dermatology in the back of my mind as a potential specialty during medical school and started working on it from day one.
Dr. Pfeifer '19: I first became interested in dermatology in early college. My mom was diagnosed with melanoma, and I got to see first-hand the large impact a dermatologist can have on a patient’s life. In addition, my family has always struggled with numerous dermatology related conditions (vitiligo, severe eczema, melasma), and I realized that you can be such a big part of making someone feel like their best self. In addition, no day is the same—you get to experience clinic, surgeries, pathology—all with the ability to have plenty of time for family life.
Some decided to pursue the field before even entering medical school, while others focused on the experience they had with it during rotations. The mixed procedural and contemplative aspect of dermatology also stood out to the physicians. All of the responses, however, conveyed a passionate tone that highlights their desire to help patients.
Thank you to the alumni for their time!
These former MU-COM students provided me with a great deal of insight into the intricacies and challenges that accompany dermatology. I am grateful for the time they spent to respond to me and answer my questions. What do MU-COM alumni have to say about dermatology residency? Be passionate. Do research. Persevere. Commit. Be unique. Take initiative.
About the Author
Jessica Caruso is a second-year medical student at Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MU-COM). Prior to Marian, Jessica graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a minor in Spanish Language and Literature. As the Mental Wellness Chair at MU-COM, she promotes activities and events to help students unwind and fights to end the stigma against mental illness. Additionally, she serves as the treasurer for the Pediatric Student Interest Group, promoting adolescent and pediatric outreach and education. During the summer, she worked in the 3D-Visualization Laboratory to develop models, videos, and other projects that allow better education of anatomy to students, physicians, and patients. She volunteers as a Crisis Counselor at Crisis Text Line, helping people in crisis through active listening, collaborative problem solving, and safety planning. When she isn’t busy studying or volunteering, Jessica enjoys reading, kayaking, and playing games with friends.