An Interview With Impact Leader Achiamah Osei-Tutu, MD

We’re shining the ProjectIMPACT Spotlight on Achiamah Osei-Tutu, MD, FAAD, an individual who is making a positive impact in healthcare by reducing racial bias in medicine. Dr. Osei-Tutu is interviewed by Callyn Iwuala, 4th-year medical student at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University and VisualDx Student Advisory Board member.

Callyn Iwuala: Please describe your job and your favorite aspects of your current position:

Dr. Osei-Tutu: I am a hair restoration surgeon. My focus in dermatology is on hair loss and hair restoration. My favorite part of my job is helping patients find creative ways of dealing with some of the obstacles they face. Most of these obstacles are not medical. A lot of these barriers are psychosocial issues.

Let’s say you have a particular hair condition. Based on the treatment and management that I recommended, how does that change and impact your life? How does this management change how you navigate in life? If I tell you that you can’t wear this particular hairstyle but your identity is tied to that hairstyle or that style is a particular crutch for you, then what can I do to help you to change that and continue to make you feel beautiful while we take care of your follicles?

Formulating the treatment and management of one’s hair disorder while considering the patient’s associated sociopolitical and psychosocial issues is the most fun and the most challenging part of my job.

cI: What do you see as the biggest challenges in reducing bias in healthcare?

Dr. Osei-Tutu: To reduce bias, everyone—including health care professionals—should make a concerted effort to deconstruct their biases. For example, if you have a Black patient who is experiencing hair loss, then you need to take the effort that is required to learn about Black hair and hair loss –specifically in the Black population. YouTube is a great place for people to learn about hair loss and the significance of hair loss in specific cultural communities. The biggest challenge again, is the lack of effort or the lack of interest in learning about the experiences of diverse populations in the context of medicine.

ci: what Are you currently working on that addresses healthcare inequity? 

Dr. Osei-Tutu: I strongly believe in the continuity of care. For patients who reside far away from my practice in Brooklyn, NY, who are seeking treatment for hair loss, I always refer to another dermatologist who lives close by. Years ago I created Docs4hair, where I listed all the doctors that I could find that treat hair loss all over the world and created a website around it. Hairstylists that are recommended by dermatologists who specialize in hair will also be featured on the platform. The website will be revamped later this year.

Black Derm Directory, a directory of Black dermatologists in the United States, was born after coming across patients who had difficulty identifying Black dermatologists outside of New York City. I started off with a list of Black dermatologists that I have been compiling for years. Some people don’t even know that Black dermatologists exist. There was also no platform that showed Black patients getting dermatologic procedures. This is my way to give back and to highlight Black dermatologists who are practicing in the United States.

CI: What or who inspires you? 

Dr. Osei-Tutu: My cousin was diagnosed with central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) in her 20s. Her mother, unbeknownst to my cousin, had been living with advanced CCCA. Watching my cousin deal with stage 5 CCCA inspired me to specialize in hair loss and hair restoration surgery. By the time I was done with my training, the CCCA damage was irreversible.

Every single time I see my patients, I see her face. I have been with her in the moments where she expresses her lack of confidence. I empathize with my patients who experience hair loss. I organize quarterly hair loss support groups at my practice.

CI: What advice would you give to students or residents who are interested in addressing healthcare disparities? 

Dr. Osei-Tutu: Get to know your patients and ask them questions. Don’t just ask the medical questions. Ask them how their condition impacts their life. When a patient does not follow the recommended treatment plan ask them why. Always come from a place that is empathetic. Be genuinely interested in what your patients have to say.

CI: How do you pledge to make an impact to improve health equity? 

Dr. Osei-Tutu: I try to continue to make an impact through technology. I have always been interested in technology. I went to Ghana during my senior residency for a month and did a mobile telemedicine project. I have always been interested in the intersection of technology and medicine. I will continue to work on Docs4hair and Black Derm Directory.