It’s the rare physician who elects to endure the rigors of residency a second time. Yet for Helena Pasieka, MD, something about dermatology got under her skin, figuratively speaking.
Meet the Physician
A graduate of the University of Washington School of Medicine, Dr. Pasieka had completed a residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan and had stayed on as an internal medicine hospitalist. Along with handling critically ill patients, she also admitted patients to the inpatient dermatology service. Her up-close look at dermatology cases was, to say the least, eye-opening.
“I was completely fascinated by the different types of cases and how they were being managed,” she recalls.
Dr. Pasieka initially balked at a mentor’s suggestion that she pursue a residency in dermatology. A few years later, however, an opening at the Johns Hopkins Dermatology Residency Program in Baltimore coincided with her husband eyeing a job opportunity at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.
“The stars just seemed to align,” Dr. Pasieka says with a laugh, “and I’m glad they did.”
Dr. Pasieka's Work Today
Splitting her time as director of Inpatient and Consultative Dermatology at both MedStar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, Dr. Pasieka works with conditions ranging from cellulitis and infections, to diseases associated with HIV/AIDS and immunological issues. Because skin ailments are often a visible manifestation of an underlying condition, Dr. Pasieka often encounters a higher degree of anxiety among her patients.
“And it’s understandable, because this is something they can see, as opposed to, say, a cholesterol test result,” Dr. Pasieka says. “An important part of my work is to help alleviate their concerns, as I guide them through the diagnosis and treatment.”
Dr. Pasieka is involved in a variety of research programs, including one exploring Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a rare disorder that can result in significant skin loss, unless treated immediately. She’s also focused on raising dermatology’s profile in public health, as access to specialized expertise is often limited by patient resources or location, even in urban areas.
“If a primary physician doesn’t have access to a dermatology consult, how does it translate to costs and outcomes,” she says. “Are there higher risks of a misdiagnosis or improper prescriptions?” She adds that while technology such as telemedicine may help with educating both patients and providers, “we first need to fully understand the extent and implication of accessibility issues.”