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Biographies in dermatology: An appraisal

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Biographies in dermatology: An appraisal
Daifullah Al Aboud MD1, Khalid Al Aboud MD2, Khalid Al Hawsawi MD3, Ahmad Al AlAboud MBBS3, V Ramesh MD4
Dermatology Online Journal 12 (1): 23

Dermatology Department, King Khalid Military City Hospital, Hafer Al Baten1, King Faisal Hospital,Makkah2, Hera General Hospital, Makkah3, Saudi Arabia. All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi,India4.

Professional biographies generally concentrate on one's work and contributions in a specific field. The Library of Congress classifies biographies in two different ways, a biography class and a general class. Biographical works are classed under the topic with which the subject is most closely identified. On rare occasions when a person has contributions in many areas, the name is then associated with the appropriate topic in that particular work.

Biographies exist in dermatology under different headings. In the main they include reminiscence, tribute, obituary, memoriam, and attribute. Reminiscence includes in its purview the act or process of recollecting past experiences or recollected experiences or events which may be pleasing or painful. A tribute is written as an expression of esteem. Festschrift is a form of tribute. Obituary is one of the commonest forms of biography which appears after the death of the subject. It briefly describes the personal and professional achievements of the deceased individual. In memoriam is a short appreciation especially used in epitaphs.

Biographical articles frequently appear in dermatology journals. They are valuable in documenting the history of our specialty through the lives of influential and esteemed members. Furthermore they set a standard for the aspirations of young clinicians and researchers.

There are other ways of honoring those who have rendered memorable service to the specialty.

  • 1. The professional dermatological societies should document the lives of its members, as is done by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) [1].
  • 2. Department or hospitals should encourage the naming of titled chairs and awards after distinguished individuals such as the Howard Fox Memorial Lecture at the AAD meeting, which evokes interest both about that individual as well as our specialty in general [2].
  • 3. Topical reviews should try to make detailed references to individuals important in discoveries under discussion. For example, Steffen wrote about Edmund Klein, Calvin J.Dillaha, Thomas Jansen and others who pioneered the use of 5-FU while speaking about the use of 5-FU [3]. Similarly, while tracing the use of liquid nitrogen in one recent manuscript, references were made to Herman V. Allington and A. Fletcher Hall [4].
  • 4. Biographies might be presented as interviews supplemented with pictures and figures [5]. Some may be shown as video presentations in online versions.
  • 5. Societies could create sections devoted to history in their conferences, which would encourage members to research, write, and share such articles. Museums and exhibits could be used for this purpose.

There are some concerns related to biographic material. An honest appreciation remains the goal but some facts merit attention.

  • 1. Biographies might disclose information that the subject or subject's family do not want to expose and hence make intrusions upon privacy [6].
  • 2. Biographies often focus more on achievements and do not indicate the actual challenges and failures. They also steer clear of the undesirable qualities of the subject. Some inspiration may be gained by inclusion of these parts of the story.
  • 3. Conflicts of interest must be taken into account as with the presentation of data in the more usual research and clinical presentations. An author may be writing about one's relative or colleague, or even oneself. Allen C Green wrote the obituary about himself before his death [7].
  • 4. The data in this type of literature may not be well documented. There is often a mix of fact and anecdote.
  • 5. Some biographies are not referenced and not indexed in MEDLINE [8].
  • 6. Some obituaries and short histories remain anonymously written in these cases should not merit publication in specialty journals [9,10].


Whatever be the drawbacks, biographies are important to "humanize" the literature of the sciences. Biographies exemplify the role of doctor as storyteller and make the subject more attractive and appealing to young minds. There is a clear lack of books and periodicals dedicated to this type of non-fiction writing. Some dermatology journals such as the American Journal of Dermatopathology, International Journal of Dermatology, and SkinMed have taken positive steps to promote biography and we believe this attitude should be encouraged. Editors of dermatology journals should agree on standard titles for this type of literature to enable MEDLINE tracking with one word, e.g., obituary or in memoriam. Preserving our unique history is worth the effort and information on institutions that provide training and courses should be available to dermatologists interested in biographical literature.



1. Centennial Hstory of the American Dermatological Association.Schaumberg,IL:1976.

2. Scwartz RA.Howard Fox,M.D,Founding father ,American Academy of Dermatology:A historical tribute on the 50th anniversary of his death.J Am Acad Dermatol 2004;51(4):471-73

3. Steffen C.Topical 5-Fluorouracil.SkinMed 2003;2(2):123-126

4. Steffen C.Herman V.Allington,A.Fletcher Hall,and the introduction of Liquid Nitrogen.SkinMed 2002;2(6):379-381.

5. Thelmo MC,Shelley D,Graham GF.Women Leaders in American Dermatology.SkinMed 2004;3:77-82

6. Weinberg JM.Too much information.Cutis 2004;74:226

7. Green AC.Obituary.Australs J Dermatol 2003;44(4):305-6.

8. Cockerell CJ.J.B.Howell,1914-2003.J Am Acad Dermatol 2004;51:485

9. Unsigned obituary.Med Rec.1908;73:489

10. Unsigned obituary.JAMA.1908;50:984

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