An Interview With Impact Leader Eva Kerby, MD

We’re shining the ProjectIMPACT Spotlight on Eva Kerby, MD, an individual who is making a positive impact in healthcare by reducing racial bias in medicine. Dr. Kerby is interviewed by Autumn Saizan, a 4th-year medical student at the University of Rochester and VisualDx Student Advisory Board member.

Autumn Saizan: Please describe your job and your favorite aspects of your current position:

Dr. Kerby: I am the director of the Weill Cornell Dermatology Center for Diverse Skin Complexions, which is an academic center focusing on skin of color. I took on this role directly out of residency and it has been a wonderful opportunity to transform patient care in addition to medical student and resident education at Weill Cornell.

My favorite part of my job is the time I get to spend teaching our residents the nuances of skin of color dermatology, knowing that they will enter the workforce and also teach this knowledge to older dermatologists who did not get training in skin of color.

Another favorite part of my job is seeing the sense of relief on my patients’ faces when they see a dermatologist of color who “gets it”—but I also know that this also means that our field still has a long way to go.

I hope that with our growing attention to the importance of adequate resident education in skin of color dermatology, one day patients of all skin tones can see any dermatologist and receive appropriate and safe treatment.

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

Dr. Kerby: I think the false notion among some providers that skin color doesn’t matter is a huge barrier to addressing the needs of patients with skin of color and in reducing bias in healthcare. Skin color does matter, and it will always matter— particularly in dermatology where certain skin conditions may look different in darker skin tones and sometimes must be treated differently than in patients with lighter skin tones. This must be recognized universally before we can move forward as a field.

AS: Are you currently working on something that addresses healthcare inequity 

Dr. Kerby: I think one of the best ways to address healthcare equity is to work tirelessly to increase diversity among practicing dermatologists. I routinely speak with high school, college, and medical students and tell them about my journey to medicine and dermatology. I also invite these students to shadow me in the clinic.

I was fortunate to have my first shadowing opportunity in high school and I remember feeling so inspired when the physician gave me a white coat to wear. This is something I do with all of my students because I remember how exciting this was and how it allowed me to envision myself as a doctor in the future.

I think these small efforts are vital in showing these students that being a doctor is a viable career path and I hope that it also attracts physicians who are passionate about giving back to and practicing in underserved communities.

I also currently serve as co-chair of the Skin of Color Society Mentorship Committee. We have several programs providing formal mentorship to medical students and resident dermatologists. Our hope is that these relationships will help increase diversity in our field which will, in turn, advance skin of color dermatology through research and improved patient care.

AS: What or who inspires you? 

Dr. Kerby: I call them “super mom’s!”; Academic female dermatologists who have been able to advance the field through both research and patient care and also maintain good work-life balance. Let’s face it—being a working mom is tough! And our field puts increasing demand on us seeing more and more patients, so it sometimes feels that there is little “leftover” time to engage in community outreach, research, and other endeavors.

I have learned from a few mentors that the key to success is keeping a narrow focus on a specific niche that you are truly passionate about and learning to say “no” to many other opportunities—which is easier said than done.

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

Dr. Kerby: Follow your passion, we need you! Find a mentor who will support you so that you can accomplish your goals, and when you become a practicing physician, be sure to mentor students who strive to follow in your footsteps.

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

Dr. Kerby: It is truly gratifying walking away from work every day knowing that I have impacted the care of so many patients with skin of color, many of whom have gone years with an inaccurate diagnosis or an inappropriate treatment plan. I think it’s the aggregate of these small patient interactions that bring such joy to me as a physician and also motivates me to continue to advance skin of color dermatology.

This Project IMPACT blog series was created to highlight leaders who are making a positive impact in healthcare by reducing racial bias in medicine.

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