When Eileen Deignan, MD, accepted the offer to join Dermatology Associates of Concord in 1999, she had come full circle. Dr. Deignan grew up in Concord, received care at Emerson as a child and attended the Concord public schools. After Yale Medical School, an internship at Stanford University and the combined Harvard Medical School dermatology residency, she was back in Concord. Dr. Deignan recently was voted onto the Emerson Hospital Board of Directors and is the treasurer of the hospital's medical staff.
What attracted you to dermatology?
I had a formative experience as a medical student when I did an elective on a native Alaskan reservation. A dermatologist flew in for two days of clinic at the health center, and I saw that, in a short amount of time, he had a dramatic impact on people's health. He made a diagnosis, formulated a treatment plan, and their problems got better. I tucked that experience away. As a fourth-year medical student, I sought a field that was intellectually challenging, dynamic and would sustain my interest throughout my career. I realized I wanted to be a dermatologist. It is a field that has hundreds of diagnoses that one has to consider when evaluating a patient.
Describe your practice at Emerson.
It's a general dermatology practice where I take care of babies, octogenarians, men, women — everyone. I'm primarily a medical dermatologist, taking care of patients with skin cancer, psoriasis, eczema, infections and myriad different eruptions, some of which can be quite esoteric. There's a fair amount of detective work in dermatology. We might be the third doctor the patient has seen for a problem. That makes it very satisfying when we can sort it out and get a patient better.
How has the field changed since you began practicing?
Dermatology is always innovating. There are several medications that weren't available when I was in training, such as biologics for psoriasis and other inflammatory disorders. Taken via subcutaneous shot or intravenous infusion or orally, they block key pathways in the inflammatory response. Those have been game-changers. We now have whole new classes of medications for metastatic melanoma. Also, as lasers have improved and become safer, we use them for many more conditions. Unfortunately, we've seen an explosion in skin cancer because so many people get too much sun exposure. But we're getting better at treating it, including with topical medications that coax the body to mount an immune system response.
As chief of dermatology at Emerson, what are your responsibilities?
I presently serve as co-chief with Kate Joyce; prior to that, I was chief on my own. I attend department of medicine meetings so that I can bring up issues that are relevant to dermatology. And I am involved in credentialing; I review re-applications to see that members of the division keep up with their continuing medical education, for example, and I interview new doctors to make sure they meet the requirements of the division.
You recently were voted onto the hospital board and elected as treasurer of the medical staff. Do you enjoy playing leadership roles?
One way I like contributing to a group is by providing the structure of good leadership. I've been in leadership roles over the years; I played a lot of sports in high school and college and was captain of a few teams. I served as chief resident during my dermatology training. I got involved in Emerson leadership because this is a hospital I really care about. I'm very pleased that the medical staff has confidence in me to serve as their treasurer. And I'm excited to have a seat at the table as a hospital board member. Medicine is changing quickly, including the way doctors and hospitals are going to be paid. I'm looking forward to being in a position where I will see changes coming and perhaps be able to help shape them.
What do you enjoy in your time off?
I like to spend time outside with my family; we hike, bike and ski together. Travel is my other hobby; I love to explore new cities and outdoor places. Last year, my sister and I had a tremendous trip to Patagonia. I would definitely return to western China. My husband is of Chinese ancestry. We have visited the foothills of the Himalayas, which are very beautiful.