Dermatology department recertified at UNM

Dr. Aimee Smidt

The University of New Mexico will once again serve as a training ground for the next generation of dermatologists.

The university learned last week that its dermatology department had regained accreditation, meaning it can once again run a residency training program.

The department lost its accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education in 2016 due in part to a faculty shortage that limited its ability to supervise residents.

But a rebuilding effort led by department chair Dr. Aimee Smidt – who was at one point the department’s lone full-time faculty member – has included enough hiring that the department is growing to seven faculty members this summer.

“We’ve really created an entirely new program and new department,” Smidt said, noting that the faculty has representation from a range of subspecialties, including pediatrics, melanoma care, dermatopathology and a Mohs surgeon to treat skin cancer.

UNM can now accept two residents each year into what is a three-year training program.

Dr. Martha Cole McGrew, executive vice dean for the UNM School of Medicine, said she cannot recall any other medical department losing its accreditation in her 28 years at UNM. She blamed it on a “confluence of events,” including a few physician retirements and departures.

Cole McGrew lauded Smidt’s progress rejuvenating what she called a much-needed program.

“This is a big win for New Mexico,” Cole McGrew said.

Smidt said she briefly considered leaving UNM amid the loss of accreditation but felt an obligation to reinvigorate the department.

“It really was unimaginable to me that in a state like ours we would not have a department or a training program for future dermatology physicians,” said Smidt, who hails from New England but married a man from Albuquerque. “That is what kept me going.”

New Mexico has a skin cancer incidence rate of 14.6 per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. (Nationally, the skin cancer incidence rate is 21.4 per 100,000 people.) But there is small pool of physicians available to treat those in New Mexico.

Smidt said New Mexico had fewer than 50 board-certified dermatologists at last count, many nearing retirement. That lent even more urgency to her quest to re-establish UNM’s dermatology residency program.

Whereas dermatologists in some communities have to “fight for patients,” her recruiting efforts stressed the need in New Mexico. Some of the new faculty she hired are mid-career professionals who she said want to teach a younger generation, while others are straight out of training.

“That was part of what I was conveying: that when people join here, they would immediately be needed and have such opportunities to help – both from a patient care standpoint, but also from an education and research mission,” she said.

Smidt said the School of Medicine provided support to make incoming faculty salaries more competitive but that provider pay in New Mexico, especially in academia, remains a challenge. A $500,000 gift made by Jim and Ellen King last year also helped fund one of the incoming physician’s research, Smidt said.

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