What Caring For Diverse Patients Has Taught Me

Even though I have been a practicing dermatologist in Nashville for almost 20 years, I find there is always knowledge to be garnered. I knew that I would learn new techniques and surgery skills over the lifetime of my practice but I never considered that I would learn so much about the lives and diversity of people.


When I first started my practice in an upscale suburb of Nashville, patients would drive 40 minutes from southern Tennessee to come to Skin Solutions Dermatology; So, we opened up a second location


After that, a third location came around too - with my children attending school in Nashville, I wanted to be closer to them at least one day a week. Then came our fourth location, to accommodate patients driving up from the Tennessee Alabama border to see us. As a result of trying to make sure all our patients could easily access our services, before we knew it, we had eight locations,


Looking back at this rapid expansion of Skin Solutions Dermatology, I am grateful that it introduced me people from different walks of life. My Franklin patients are different than my Columbia patients who are also very different from my Nashville patients, etc. Taking care of such diverse patient populations on a weekly basis, I had to reach beyond my comfort zone, to consciously understand and respect the lifestyle and choices amongst different ethnicities, income levels, and cultures. From refugees to true Tennesseans, who’s genealogy can be traced back to the South for generations; from families who worry about what high ranking college their children will attend to families who struggle with drug addicted children; from veterans to convicts; and of course, all while caring for people of various skin shades and tones different from mine. Working with diverse patient populations, I have come to understand that the human condition is a continuum and I need to make an effort to relate to someone who is on the opposite side of the continuum than I am. 


It may sound quirky but, with that knowledge, I’ve been better able to help my patients overcome their skin conditions - and it has taught me a new level of respect for many I may not have have understood before. Asking questions, listening, and letting go of the judgment are just as important qualities in a dermatologist as technical skills. Trying to understand what has lead people down their paths in life helps relationships form and has taught me a new level of respect for people who have led very different lives than I have ever known. For instance, I have learned to look past the outward intimidating appearance of prisoners brought to my office. I have learned to talk to prisoners as I would a CEO. In doing so, I have found prisoners to be respectful and grateful for the help I am giving them. I don’t accept that what they did to land in jail was right but I allow myself to see their kindness which, opens me up to try to understand their path in life. In turn, I hope they don’t leave our encounter thinking I am a highly educated snob who could never begin to understand their life. 


I can honestly say that I did not expect the field of dermatology to teach me about life. But, I am forever grateful to my career choice for leading me down a path of less judgement and more acceptance of people who are not like me. 


What unexpected learnings have you had from your job? Tell me in the comments below!

Visit us at Skin Solutions Dermatology in NashvilleFranklinColumbiaSmyrnaHendersonville or Pulaski to chat with our amazing team of dermatology specialists! Take advantage of our online booking system and book an appointment today.

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Dr Pena

About The Author

Dr. Pena is a Board-Certified Medical Dermatologist, Mohs skin cancer surgeon, and cosmetic dermatologist. Her mission is to educate the diverse patient populations she serves, and their communities, on the importance of skin care in decreasing the risk of skin cancer and minimizing the early signs of aging. She founded Skin Solutions Dermatology with numerous clinics in Nashville, Tennessee and surrounding Middle Tennessee.

Dr. Julia Pena, MD

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