Meet the Dermatologist: Psoriasis
Dr. David Harvey is a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon in Atlanta, Ga. In our "Meet the Specialist" series, we highlight the unique perspectives of various medical specialists on the types of patients they see and what they find rewarding and challenging in their daily practice.
As a dermatologist, I don’t see my job as work, but as more of a calling. I feel very fortunate to have the responsibility to help people who are hurting and to be able to make a real impact in their lives. Dermatologists play a lot of roles; every day, I get to be a surgeon removing cancerous moles and performing cosmetic procedures, a general dermatologist treating people who are struggling with psoriasis and acne, and sometimes even a therapist, helping people cope through some of the hardest periods of their lives. I’m grateful for the ability to make a difference.
When I was a child, my dad was a pharmaceutical sales representative for a company that sold a lot of topical anti-fungal creams, so I was exposed to the world of dermatology at a young age. As I got older, I found that I enjoyed science and helping people. Over time, it became clear to me that I could combine both of these passions by going into medicine. While in medical school, I learned about a lot of different specialties, but dermatology really stood out to me. I loved that dermatology, which is the study of skin, hair and nails, seemed tangible. The skin is the largest organ in our body and it’s visible. When you’re treating blood pressure, you’re addressing a number that’s fairly abstract. But when you’re treating the skin, it’s right there in front of you. I love that aspect of it. I realized dermatology was a really unique specialty, and dove right in. Today, 21 years later, I still love what I do.
An Exciting Field
It’s truly an inspiring time to be a dermatologist—we’ve seen so many advances in the field since I graduated from medical school. We know much more about the skin and we’re better able to diagnose conditions and treat them effectively. Today, we can remove cancerous skin growths in a simple surgery using local anesthesia, and we can use microneedling or lasers to treat excessive sweating and scars.
When I first started practicing two decades ago, we didn’t have a lot of options to treat psoriasis, but now we have new biologic medications that have made a tremendous impact on this disease. Treating patients with psoriasis is personally rewarding for me because it gives me the opportunity to significantly improve a patient’s quality of life. In psoriasis, the immune system is altered in such a way that skin cells begin to replicate quickly; as a result, patients develop red, scaly, patches on their skin, called plaques. Because these lesions are often visible, psoriasis can really affect the mental health of an individual and contribute to low self-esteem, depression, and hopelessness. In severe cases, patients don’t leave the house and become hermits. It’s rewarding when I can give comfort and hope back to these folks by letting them know that their psoriasis is treatable. I enjoy working with them to find the right solution.
Although there is currently no cure for psoriasis, we can get most patients to the point where their skin is just about clear. There are so many effective treatments for psoriasis today including topical creams, light therapy, and biologics. The future for psoriasis treatment looks bright. Every year, we are seeing more advanced targeted therapies that are more effective and have fewer side effects. It is my hope that we can identify the genes that are the major inducers of psoriasis and, by genetically turning them off, we will find the cure. I do think that this is a achieveable goal based on what we’ve accomplished in the last few decades.
What Patients Should Know
I encourage patients to take an active role in their treatment. When patients take the time to learn about their body and how psoriasis affects them, they are more motivated to get their symptoms under control. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the light in a patient’s eyes once we’ve found a treatment that works. My advice to patients struggling with psoriasis is to find a doctor that you like, who engages with you and treats you like a member of the team. You can and should feel empowered. Through working together with your doctor to find the right treatment, you’ll soon be on your way to be controlling this disfiguring disease and getting back to living life to the fullest.
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