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Dermatology Advice from Industry Thought Leaders on Their Biggest Mistakes, Learning Lessons, and What They Would Tell Their Younger Selves

This year’s ODAC – Aesthetic, Surgical and Clinical Dermatology Conference offered attendees an amazing faculty roster ranging from leaders in medical dermatology to surgical dermatology and everything in between. Next Steps had the chance to catch up with Drs. Justin Finch, Adam Friedman, Robert Gotkin, Elizabeth Houshmand, Vishal Patel, Deborah Sarnoff, and James Spencer to get their advice for dermatology residents and young dermatologists still in their first few years of practice.

We asked them two questions:

1. What is the biggest mistake you’ve made thus far in your career, and what have you learned from it?

2. What is the best piece of advice you would give the younger version of yourself?

The following is an amalgamation of their responses and are not direct quotes.

What is the biggest mistake you’ve made thus far in your career, and what have you learned from it?

Your First Job

When searching for a job, I have made the mistake of not asking enough questions about the day to day expectations of the position. When you first graduate, it may be difficult to know what will be important about your job, and thus, it’s difficult to know what questions to ask when evaluating job opportunities. One very important part of your future job is your support staff. How many medical assistants will you have? Who is the office manager and are they on site? Who will help with marketing you to the community and referring doctors? These types of questions are critical to the daily function of your practice and will affect the growth of your practice.

When you are offered a contract from a potential employer, get every detail written down in contract negotiations. What they tell you is useless. Never assume anything from what you are told. Until something is specifically stated in writing and signed by both parties, it doesn’t exist.

Patient Care

Be careful to not always try to hit a home-run with every patient. Patients don’t always want that. Learn to meet patients where they are rather than always trying to hit it out of the park. It’s not necessarily about how much you think you can achieve for the patient; it’s about what they want.


I wish I had understood more about the way finances worked earlier in my career. That was really stupid of me. Dermatologists should make it their business to understand the financial parts of being a physician (reimbursement, etc.). And don’t be too trusting of those around you. 

Career Advice

I think perhaps I spent too long trying to be the best at a lot of different parts of dermatology. What I should have done much sooner was to pick something that I loved and become the world’s expert in it. If you really want to advance your career and become a respected authority in dermatology, that is the way to do it. Pick something and work really hard to become the world’s expert in it.

What is the best piece of advice you would give the younger version of yourself?

Don’t be afraid to ask for the things that are important to you.

Don’t listen to the naysayers.

Just say “Yes”! Jump on every opportunity and do it better than you think you can.

Follow your happiness – whether that’s private practice or academics – and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Make sure to find and connect with great mentors along the way. They give great career guidance and can keep you from making big mistakes.

Consider leaving your residency institution for work. Sometimes, it will make you look like a genius. One day, you might make a suggestion, which was something everyone at your old institution always did, and to newer colleagues, you seem like you were the one who thought it up. Plus, it pushes you to be a better dermatologist when you leave your comfort zone.

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