New Mexico is the ninth sunniest state in the nation, and the future looks bright for the dermatology program at the University of New Mexico.
The dermatology resident program re-earned accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) – meaning medical school graduates have the chance to train in the specialty in New Mexico.
Dr. Martha Cole McGrew, executive vice dean for the UNM School of Medicine, said New Mexico needs more dermatologists to combat skin cancer and keep local students employed in the state.
“It means that now we can have students who go to medical school in New Mexico, stay here and match into the department of dermatology,” Cole McGrew said. “Which is fantastic, because it is one of the specialties around our state that is underrepresented.”
Back in 2016, the three-year dermatology resident program lost its accreditation for a minimum of two years due to key faculty departures.
Three employees, including the residency director and the chairman of the department, left or retired in 2016, which led to issues of inadequate supervision of residents. At that time, the department only had one full-time faculty member.
That one-time sole faculty member is board-certified pediatric dermatologist Dr. Amiee Smidt, who now chairs the department of dermatology. Smidt assumed the position as interim chair of the department in July of 2016, and then became the chair nearly six months later in January 2017.
Smidt was tasked with rebuilding and winning back accreditation. She said the road was difficult and the stakes were high to reinstate accreditation. Smidt estimates there’s only around 50 dermatologists in the state, with most based in Albuquerque.
The UNM Medical School year starts in July. The department is interviewing residents for the next two weeks to start in the 2018 summer cohort. Smidt said they received over 50 applications across the country for the two positions that are open.
“It was quite devastating for the medical school to lose the training program...to specialize in dermatology,” Smidt said.
Smidt said New Mexico lost any prospective medical school graduates and current residents who wanted to train in dermatology.
“We actually had to transfer the six residents who wanted to train here or would have completed their training here to institutions outside of our state,” Smidt said.
Residency training programs allow physicians to train in a chosen specialty after medical school and one-year internships. Through residency training, they become eligible for board certifications in that specialty. While board certification and residency training is not required for physicians to practice, the American Academy of Dermatology says board-certified physicians provide “higher quality patient care.”
Smidt says the focus now is on developing the incoming crop of residents.
“The next part is developing and growing a new training program that’s very different from what we had here before,” Smidt said. “I’m really so thrilled and excited and proud of the team we’ve been able to recruit here.”
Currently, Smidt and three others make up the faculty of the department. The department has hired three faculty members who will join by August and the seven-member team “represent(s) the entire breadth of expertise in dermatology,” Smidt said.
The department faculty have experienced skin cancer treatment including Mohs surgery fellowship training — a precise surgical technique. Smidt said everything from common dermatology to complex medical dermatology will be covered.
Smidt said the financial and moral support of alumni, students, faculty and community members allowed her to build the department back up.
“I’ve heard time and time again how important it is to have this program in Albuquerque and our state specifically, but we could not have done it without all the support,” she said.
Danielle Prokop is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ProkopDani.