From Akron to Harvard: Dermatologist’s path guided by father, other mentors

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Harley Haynes, MD, with a photo of his father in the background.

As a child, Harley Haynes, MD, helped out in his father’s dermatology practice in Akron, Ohio. The experience set the tone not only for how he would later practice medicine, but also his regard for mentorship.

During his Everett C. Fox, MD Memorial Lectureship at the Friday Plenary, Dr. Haynes discussed his father’s influence and how later mentors helped shape his career direction and success.

His summer vacations were filled helping with various tasks in his father’s dermatology practice and, with permission from patients, he saw skin disorders.

“Very early in my life, I learned about the value of excellent dermatologic care for patients,” said Dr. Haynes, vice chairman, emeritus, of the department of dermatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, Boston.

He discussed his formative influences and incidents, and mentors who led him to become a dermatologist and to develop a strong interest in teaching at the bedside. He recalled his father’s disappointment at seeing his boarding school year-end report card revealing an overall C. His father studied the document and then, before walking off, said, “I suppose that is all we could expect.”

“I became very angry with that assumption, and I resolved to prove him wrong. Thereafter, I was on the honor roll and was even accepted into Princeton,” Dr. Haynes said.

In another exchange, he went into the family home after washing his father’s car as a surprise. He was 15 and was proud of the gleaming result.

“My father came out with me to look at the car, but he stood silently for quite a while before saying, ‘Harley, you forgot the hubcaps. It’s the details that count!’” Dr. Haynes said. “I was so disappointed. Then, thank God, I understood. This is another gift that helps me each day — to notice the details, often ones not noticed by others, that often help tremendously in making diagnoses.”

After graduating from Harvard Medical School and becoming a medical intern at Brigham, he was accepted into the Commissioned Officers’ Reserve Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service and then was accepted into the dermatology branch of the National Cancer Institute.

An invited lecture he gave at the AAD Annual Meeting in 1967 led to an invitation from Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, MD, to meet for a drink after the session. “We sat under a shade structure, had a couple of beers, watched the ocean, and chatted,” said Dr. Haynes, adding that Dr. Fitzpatrick then asked him if he would be interested in a dermatology residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“I thought for a few micro-seconds before accepting with much enthusiasm,” he said. “Now I knew what kind of doctor I would become. I didn’t have to make a difficult decision. I have never regretted it either.”

For Dr. Haynes, the emphasis of his teaching has been to relate the clinical appearance of a lesion to the likely histopathology that could cause such an appearance, and then use other clues from the history, labs, or additional physical findings to select the most likely diagnosis among the differential diagnosis.

In a special interview with AAD Meeting News, he elaborated on his processes and philosophies.

“This exercise is sometimes very detailed, and sometimes rather superficial, depending on the degree of difficulty or the case,” he said. “Both the patient and the trainee are included in this thinking-out-loud activity and are invited to join in as deemed appropriate. For almost all of my patients, this activity is much appreciated and enhances the patient-doctor partnership, as opposed to the old passive patient-authoritarian physician model.

“Similarly, the trainee becomes involved, rather than just observing, and can experience some of the excitement of diagnosing and treating the patient while interacting with the patient. Just as one would wish one’s own physician to do if one were a patient.”

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