Society helps increase awareness, research in skin of color
As a result of advocacy by the Skin of Color Society, more dermatologic professionals are committed to work that strives to improve the societal inequities of health care and advance the science in skin of color.
In 2004, Susan C. Taylor, MD, founded the society to promote awareness of and excellence within dermatology for patients with skin of color. Since then, the Skin of Color Society (SOCS) has worked to improve both the care of underserved populations and the education of medical students, residents and dermatologists through educational symposia, mentoring programs, research opportunities and awareness programs.
In this Healio Q&A, Taylor discusses the many opportunities offered by SOCS, milestones achieved and how the organization has grown from its infancy.
Healio: Tell us about the early days and how the society came about.
Taylor: In the early days I was the creator and director of the Skin of Color Center at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York. After brainstorming ways to promote the importance of the field of skin of color, we developed the idea to create a Skin of Color Society whose mission would encompass education of colleagues about issues related to skin of color, promoting and supporting research, mentoring students and more.
I contacted 14 of my dermatology colleagues, and after discussing the vision of the society, I asked each if they would be interested in serving on the board of this newly created society. It was amazing to me that each one said yes. I had contacted a diverse group of dermatologists who were of different races and ethnicities, in academic and private practice, but all of whom would be interested in disorders affecting individuals with darker skin tones. Once a board of directors was established, I began creating bylaws and key committees encouraged the board members to chair a committee.
Early on it was a challenge to bring all of the pieces together. There were bylaws to create, as well as fundraising goals to achieve and increasing membership — it was a big undertaking. In fact, I served on every committee. I served as president for 5 or 6 years to provide continuity, to make sure we got off the ground and until someone else agreed to serve. But then it picked up steam and momentum, and now we have members across the globe.
There are now many professionals committed to tackling the different aspects in societal inequities of health care and the Skin of Color Society has been at the forefront. The society has been proactive in advancing the science in skin of color by providing research grants to young investigators as well as a forum to present their research. We has sought to actively increase the number of skin of color students in dermatology by developing a robust mentoring program. On the Skin of Color Society website, we have a section exclusively for medical students that highlights step by step what they need to know each year to enhance their application for dermatology residency. We help them through the components of building a strong dermatology application for dermatology residency programs.
Healio: Tell us about your education efforts on dermatologic issues related to skin of color.
Taylor: We have a pretty robust website and there are sections where the public can visit and learn about skin of color and conditions they may encounter.
Two examples are resources on the devastating form of hair loss that occurs almost exclusively in women of African descent, called central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia, and on the disorder of pigmentation called melasma. These are just two disorders that are discussed on the website and there are many other conditions common in patients with skin of color.
Another educational effort is the Skin of Color Society annual symposium that is held on the Thursday before the American Academy of Dermatology annual meeting. We have renowned speakers who provide lectures on disorders common in skin of color patients. Additionally, we provide a forum for medical student, residents and junior attendings to present research. The scientific symposium is open to everyone. Information can be found on the website.
Healio: Are there any programs or partnerships that dermatologists should take advantage of?
Taylor: The Skin of Color Society along with the Women’s Dermatologic Society, the American Academy of Dermatology and the Society for Investigative Dermatology have collaborated to attend two medical student-oriented conferences: the Student National Medical Association and the Latino Medical Student Association. Our members are available to encourage underrepresented minority students to enter the specialty of dermatology and we answer questions that the students may have about dermatology.
All four societies partnered to host the Diversity Champions Workshop to discuss measures to increase the number of students of color in the field of dermatology.
Healio: What does the future look like for SOCS?
Taylor: The future is limitless. I’m excited about the 600 members we now have from 31 countries and the level of engagement by our members. Research on topics important to skin of color patients has exploded. We are on the cusp of many significant developments.
Healio: What else should we know about SOCS?
Taylor: I would invite everyone to visit the SOCS website and to attend our scientific symposium before AAD. This year it’s in Denver and it’s a great opportunity for education as well as networking with colleagues. Please know that you do not have to be of color to participate.
Disclosure: Taylor is the founder of the Skin of Color Society.