Burt Steffes, MD, conducts a free skin cancer screening.
Feb. 19, 2014, Rolling Meadows, Ill. – In real estate, the axiom is “location, location, location.” Dermatologist Burt Steffes, M.D., knows that adage also applies to access to preventive screenings for dangerous skin lesions.
Yet another patient with an advanced skin cancer tumor had come to his Fond du Lac, Wis., office for help. Dr. Steffes observed that this patient – and others with advanced tumors – lived in remote, rural areas. With little or no access to local dermatology services, suspicious legions were being left untreated to evolve into complex cancers that required more detailed and extensive treatments.
Preventive medical care such as regular skin cancer screenings could have helped these patients. But many lived at least an hour’s drive away from the nearest dermatologist.
Seeing an opportunity to help, Dr. Steffes began an initiative through the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery to offer free skin cancer screenings in underserved areas. During three screenings over the course of a year, 10 percent of those screened were found to have lesions suspicious for skin cancer.
He and other volunteers conducted the exams through the Society’s Future Leaders Network, a leadership development initiative. The one-year curriculum creates chances for younger professionals to work with a professional mentor. The young leader enhances his or her leadership skills by developing a focused project that helps put medical skills into action, while also benefiting the profession and others.
“I felt that by offering skin cancer screenings in underserved rural areas, we would be able to detect skin cancers at an early stage and significantly decrease morbidity,” Dr. Steffes said.
“The Future Leaders Network provided the support and education to help me organize and implement my vision. My mentor, Dr. Murad Alam, and other mentors and mentees provided input that was invaluable in shaping the project and helping it succeed,” he said.
The screening program started to take shape. Dr. Steffes sought dermatologists and local community members to volunteer, and eventually set up three large weekend screenings in the state in the first year, in Ladysmith, Park Falls and Wautoma, Wis. The ASDS/Neutrogena Choose Skin Health program provided free screening forms and materials.
To increase visibility and attract more participants, the Wautoma screening was held through the Waushara County Health Department and the Park Falls screening was held in conjunction with a men’s health event.
“Any patient with a suspicious growth was given a list of the closest dermatologists as well as local physicians who could perform biopsies. Those patients also received a letter within the next few weeks reminding them to seek care,” Dr. Steffes said.
Though recruiting volunteers and organizing the screenings wasn’t easy, Dr. Steffes found the project incredibly rewarding.
“The gratitude of the patients and the communities was extremely satisfying. People genuinely appreciated and were grateful for the screening,” he said. “And it was very rewarding to see people we screened getting the treatment they so needed.”
Dr. Steffes hopes to continue providing this important access to potentially life-saving care. Two screenings have been continued on an annual basis, and he hopes to expand the program by inspiring other doctors to provide similar screenings.
“I hope other dermatologic surgeons will donate their time and talents to reach out to underserved communities,” Dr. Steffes said. “There’s a huge need for skin cancer screenings in many areas, both rural and urban. And at the same time, doctors get the chance to give back to communities that don’t have access to dermatology services.”
The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) is the largest specialty organization exclusively representing dermatologic surgeons who have unique training and experience to treat the health, function and beauty of your skin. ASDS members are pioneers in the field. Many are involved in the clinical studies that bring popular treatments to revitalize skin and fill and diminish wrinkles to the forefront. Their work has helped create and enhance many of the devices that remove blemishes, hair and fat, and tighten skin. Dermatologic surgeons also are experts in skin cancer prevention, detection and treatment. As the incidence of skin cancer rises, dermatologic surgeons are committed to taking steps to minimize the life-threatening effects of this disease. For more information, visit www.asds.net.
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery