It’s not uncommon for a medical student to change specialty plans. For Jamie Harris, a second-year student at the University of Florida School of Medicine, that decision came as the result of a vicious dog and an empathetic doctor.
Harris intended to become a pediatrician but is now pursuing pediatric dermatology instead.
After an attack by a dog in which she suffered extreme scarring, Harris was treated by Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, a New York dermatologist whose approach involves early and aggressive treatment. After treating her, Bhanusali offered to have Harris shadow him.
She returned to school to shadow other dermatologists and to research the specialty before taking Bhanusali up on his offer. Harris sat in on procedures and meetings with patients and studied Bhanusali’s approach to the specialty. “I just fell in love with dermatology,” Harris told Medscape Medical News. “I knew that what I wanted for my own career was exactly how he runs his practice and how he treats patients.”
In 2020, Harris was a sophomore in the University of Florida’s medical honors program, an accelerated track that allows students to earn both a bachelor of science degree and a doctor of medicine degree in 7 years. She had finished studying at a friend’s apartment and was watching television when the rescue dog the friend adopted lunged at Harris, biting her on the face. “I was just cowering in the corner of the couch,” Harris recalls. “I didn’t go into fight-or-flight mode; I just went into hide mode.”
After receiving stitches in the emergency department, Harris visited several dermatologists and plastic surgeons for further treatment. There was scarring from her forehead to her chin, which was particularly severe on her upper cheek just under her eye, Harris said. But because there was no infection or medical problems, the doctors turned her away. “They said, ‘OK, you look great.’ I did not look great,” she said.
Med student Jamie Harris before and after scar treatment.
Harris’ doctors advised her to wait a year before starting treatment for the scarring, a traditional approach. Harris was frustrated. “At the time, I was interested in becoming a pediatrician and thought, ‘No kid is going to want me as their doctor.’ ” But she accepted the medical advice — until her mother remembered a news story she’d seen.
Bridger Walker, a 6-year-old Wyoming boy, made headlines when he saved his younger sister from a dog that was attacking, but Bridger was bitten multiple times as a result. Bhanusali treated the boy’s scarring.
Harris and her mom contacted the doctor, and after meeting via Zoom, Bhanusali agreed to treat her right away. He used lasers to resurface the skin, which created a suitable foundation for the scar cream, and he administered steroid injections to soften the scar tissue.
“I See You”
Bhansali said he was impressed with the young student he treated. “There’s curiosity, and then there’s genuine passion. She has the latter,” he told Medscape. “Having gone through this, she will understand the value of research and keeping up with the literature and that just because something is being done a certain way today doesn’t mean it has to be that way tomorrow.”
Harris agrees that the experience will make her a better dermatologist. “One of the best parts about dermatology is that you can see your results in real time and really see what’s working and what’s not working. The potential for innovation is just amazing.”
But Harris believes she also gained empathy with dermatology patients. “I know exactly what it’s like to look in the mirror and not even recognize yourself, just have your eyes go straight to one thing and feel like the whole world is staring at you,” she said. “I’ll be able to reassure people that no matter what their concern is, whether it’s eczema or acne, whether it’s one pimple, I see you, and I know exactly how that feels.”
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