“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

– Benjamin Franklin

The Dermatology Education Foundation (DEF), a non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation, was founded to inspire dermatology nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) to achieve a professional balance between the art of healing, the power of diagnostic skills, and case-based assessment and training. Comprehensive care through a consistent training and educational approach are just some of the goals of the DEF. In the clinical practice setting, NPs and PAs work collaboratively with physicians to provide patient care. According to a recent study in The American Journal of Managed Care, there are 190,000 NPs and 86,000 PAs in the US. It is reported that collectively, these increasingly important healthcare providers are responsible for an estimated 1,260,000,000 prescriptions each year in the US.

NPs and PAs play an integral role in the practice of dermatology in the United States. There are at least 3,000 dermatology-specific PAs in the US and according to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately half of all dermatology practices currently employ a PA. Unfortunately, the number of dermatology-specific training and mentorship programs for NPs and PAs is lacking. Very few formal dermatology post-graduate fellowship or training programs exist for NPs and PAs and access to these programs is extremely limited. In fact, the majority of training NPs and PAs receive is on the job by the physician with whom they work. This disparity represents an unmet educational need in the dermatologic training for these healthcare professionals. To combat this need, the DEF launched a comprehensive educational website (DermNPPA.org), and hosts a minimum of one live annual educational accredited conference designed specifically for the NP and PA. The educational offerings from the DEF are designed to provide clinical updates and to increase knowledge of and expertise with many diagnoses and treatment advances in medical dermatology. Pathophysiology of disease states are elucidated and therapeutic mechanisms of action are described and presented in practical case-based interactive formats to enhance provider education with the goal of improved patient outcomes.

DEF Mentorship Grant Goals

Being mindful that the dermatology healthcare professional may sometimes find it difficult to stay current with the literature in their specialty or training opportunities, and therefore, may fall victim to potential practice gaps, the DEF launched mentorship opportunities to connect qualified NPs and PAs with unique training experiences.

Samantha Zunich, MMS, PA-C

The DEF Mentorship Committee is comprised of Wendy Cantrell, CRNP, DNP, Kara Gooding, MMS, PA-C, Jayme Heim, MSC, FNP-BC, and Kristine Kucera, PA-C, MPAS, DHS. The DEF accepts grant submissions in a rolling cycle via the DEF website (DermNPPA.org).

Thanks to an unrestricted educational grant from Sun Pharmaceuticals, qualified applicants with diagnostic skill and existing experience level may be awarded a DEF Mentorship Grant to enhance the best practices that are necessary to recognize the skin diseases and conditions pertinent in dermatologic practice. Through this program, mentees will be able to formulate useful treatment strategies and techniques for both routine and challenging circumstances, as well as correcting suboptimal results with their patients.

DEF Mentorship Grant Award Program

The DEF is thrilled to announce the first Mentorship Grant award winner is Samantha Zunich, MMS, PA-C, whose research proposal involves reflectance confocal microscopy (RCM), which is a technology for imaging the skin that can aid in the diagnosis of benign and malignant skin lesions. RCM allows in-vivo visualization of the epidermis down to the papillary dermis in real-time, and resolution is comparable to conventional histology. This essentially allows the clinician to perform a virtual biopsy of the skin, in turn minimizing unnecessary skin biopsies. This can be particularly helpful for evaluating challenging skin lesions or lesions on sensitive areas of the body, such as the face, as RCM has shown a higher sensitivity than dermoscopy for the diagnosis of lentigo maligna. RCM is typically only available at specialized dermatology institutions and requires specialized training, but through the DEF Mentorship Grant, Ms. Zunich will have the opportunity to spend time with Harold Rabinovitz, MD and his colleagues at Skin and Cancer Associates who have mastered this technology and made several publications on reflectance confocal microscopy. Through this mentorship, Ms. Zunich will be able to apply this technology to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of skin malignancies for the vast patient population she helps treat in practice in Arizona. Like Ms. Zunich, all of the DEF grant awardees are responsible for reporting their program findings, discussing with the DEF Grant Committee, and publishing their results through journals, the DEF website, and media channels.