2019 AAD president-elect address: My three greatest lessons

There’s joy in practicing dermatology. That’s the heartfelt expression George Hruza, MD, MBA, conveyed during his 2019 American Academy of Dermatology president-elect address. Dr. Hruza attributed his joy to decades of patient care and teaching, as well as the opportunity to serve in a number of leadership roles.

George Hruza, MD, MBA

“It may sound corny, but I believe in the joy of dermatology,” Dr. Hruza said. “But there’s something I believe is even more important than my 30 years as a dermatologist — 21 years of teaching dermatologic surgery and two decades in leadership roles.”

Strategies and milestones

Thanking AAD President Suzanne Olbricht, MD, Dr. Hruza noted Dr. Olbricht’s strong leadership, particularly in developing the organization’s new strategic plan.

“It is a superb plan. It’s timely and focused on the big issues,” he said. “I look forward to bringing it to life.”

Beyond his own hard work, Dr. Hruza acknowledged those leaders who have gone before him, saying “this moment is a culmination of years of working to strengthen our specialty, which has grown in importance dramatically over my career.”

“At every milepost, the AAD was there to amplify our [physician] voice on behalf of our professionals, our specialty, and our patients,” he said.

Dr. Hruza credits the AAD and its educational programs, practice management support, and advocacy to help the Academy maintain, increase, or recapture the joy of practicing dermatology. And he intends to keep it that way.

Eye on health care, patients

“I’m very sensitive to anything that intrudes into the doctor-patient relationship,” Dr. Hruza said. “I grew up in the Czech Republic under government-controlled health care. I have vivid memories about how such a system operates. My uncle, a prominent attorney in Prague, developed renal failure at age 51 and died from renal failure at age 52. This was because the government refused to pay for dialysis for anyone over age 50.”

Calling on that vivid memory, Dr. Hruza believes that health care decisions should be made between a patient and his or her doctor. It forms three lessons that Dr. Hruza shares, as well.

His first lesson is to live every day to its fullest and with no regrets. That’s the spirit he will bring to his AAD presidency, he said. He plans to build on Dr. Olbricht’s work, as well as his predecessors to modernize the AAD.

“Part of our work on the Strategic Plan is to go through every single AAD program, deciding if it’s great, then put more resources behind it. If it’s OK, maintain it. And if it’s neither, de-emphasize it or, dare I say, ‘sunset it,’” he said.

Reinvigoration, unity

The second lesson is that no problem is unsolvable. That’s why Dr. Hruza wants to reinvigorate AAD’s state efforts, especially because “so many things that affect day-to-day practice are at the state level,” he said, including scope of practice, truth in advertising, badge laws, prior authorization, and step therapy.

“Becoming engaged in the process, and especially getting our patients involved, is a force-multiplier,” he said.

Don’t forget, he said, unity is the “linchpin of our success.” And the divisive topic is whether dermatologists represent an organization for dermatologists or dermatology.

“Each of us wants to know that the AAD is working for us. But in survey after survey, members say the reason they belong is to feel part of something bigger than themselves. We feel pride in being members of the AAD—not because we can get good bills passed, but because of the good work we do for our patients,” he said.

During his address, Dr. Hruza touched on considerations facing dermatology, such as augmented intelligence, quality improvement, and burnout, which brought him to his final lesson.

Lessons learned

“This brings me to my greatest life lesson: Never forget that we work in a field that brings real joy not only to ourselves, but also to so many others,” he said. “My mother came to understand this when she was 19, in a concentration camp, of all places.”

Dr. Hruza shared his mother’s story.

“One day, they got called out of their barracks for roll call. Everybody went out to line up except for two people — one was a doctor, and the other, another prisoner who the doctor was performing surgery on. An SS guard came up to him and barked, ‘You have to go outside for roll call.’ The doctor calmly replied, ‘but I’m in the middle of a surgery.’ The guard said, ‘I’ll give you a choice. Go outside and I’ll let you live, or finish your surgery and I’ll shoot you.’ Without hesitation, the doctor turned and went back to his surgery, sacrificing his life for his patient,” he said. “It is a privilege and honor to represent a team of professionals who have devoted their lives to providing that joy.”