You could say Joel L. Cohen, MD, was destined to become a dermatologist. Both his father and grandfather had “meaningful and successful careers in dermatology,” says Dr. Cohen, who grew up in Michigan, listening to his father’s first hand stories about processes and discoveries in the field, along with recounts of his grandfather’s experiences. “I am very proud of my family’s legacy in dermatology,” he says. Today, Dr. Cohen is building a legacy of his own, as director of two private practices in Colorado: AboutSkin Dermatology and DermSurgery in Englewood and Lone Tree. He also serves as an associate clinical professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Colorado.
His path to dermatology, however, was by way of urology, which he studied upon first entering the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “In a sense, they both are fields where you see men, women and children of different ages and both have significant procedures as part of the practice,” says Dr. Cohen. “But, ultimately, dermatology is a wonderful field, where you have infectious disease and endocrinology in different age groups.”
Photography by Matthew Nager
A Passion for Research & Aesthetics
At Mount Sinai, Dr. Cohen participated in medical research involving many cutting edge procedures. This experience fostered an interest in pursuing research as part of his career. He took that interest with him to his residency at one of the oldest dermatology programs in the country, Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital. While there, he worked with some of the biggest luminaries in the field, including George Mikhail, MD, a pioneer in rhinoplasty, and Edward Krull, MD, who succeeded Clarence Livingood, MD, as the program’s chairman. “Being able to work with [Dr. Krull] regularly throughout my residency and seeing the surgical aspects of dermatology was incredible,” says Dr. Cohen. He describes his training at Henry Ford as a “wonderful balance of medical, surgical and research-related dermatology. I saw first hand that it was exciting to take care of patients in a clinical trial, to learn what procedures and medications are going to be approved, and to understand the whole process of investigation and how trials are designed.”
Dr. Cohen’s interest in cosmetic dermatology was cemented during a combined Mohs and aesthetic dermatology fellowship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where he gained further training in skin cancer surgery, lasers and spent time each week learning Botox and fillers with Drs. Alastair and Jean Carruthers. “Having had experience in learning the injections and being involved in two specific trials when I was in fellowship led me to really incorporate Botox and fillers into my practice right from the get go,” says Dr. Cohen. “I started my own clinical trials once I started practicing.”
The Move to Private Practice
Following his training, Dr. Cohen felt that a private practice, driven by researched-backed data and encompassing medical, surgical and aesthetic dermatology would be a perfect fit for his skills and passions. And that is the practice he set out to build. He credits his wife Goldie, a pediatrician at Colorado Children’s Hospital, with helping him design and create his current practices, which consist of 40% Mohs micrographic skin cancer surgery and 60% aesthetics. He works with three—and soon to be four—other doctors on a daily basis, and enjoys the opportunity to learn from his colleagues and share their respective research.
“A lot of the research is aesthetic in terms of injectable, fillers and botulinum toxin agents, as well as lasers,” says Dr. Cohen. “It’s really fun to see what’s evolving and what technologies are going to be approved eventually. Some of it’s medical and some surgical and, in many cases, it combines both worlds.” His office is currently performing studies on the use of lasers and injectable agents to minimize scars. “The principles in surgical and aesthetic dermatology are starting to show that they have a lot of synergy,” says Dr. Cohen. “Understanding anatomy is critical to success and understanding how and where lines form. Trying to blend scars or hide scars or even use lasers to camouflage scars are all areas that are blossoming.”
A Multi-Faceted Career
On an average day, Dr. Cohen performs a Mohs surgery, full-face laser resurfacing, consults with aesthetic appointments and works with clinical trial patients. In addition to patient care, he has co-edited three textbooks and authored, or co-authored, 140 articles, and finds the time to study and lecture at scientific sessions, as well as contribute a segment to one of two local television stations or Doctor Radio on Sirius.
He notes that these regular, unpaid segments are among his most valuable practice-building tools. “That has really helped with marketing,” says Dr. Cohen. “It makes people aware, whether it’s about skin cancer, sun protection, rosacea or melasma.” He notes that his media appearances
are both a learning experience and valuable promotional vehicles.
Dr. Cohen’s 12 years of experience in private practice have taught him that success comes down to two key issues: paying attention to detail and striving for excellence with each patient encounter. “I think patients respect that we participated in many of the clinical trials for many of the procedures and products that we offer,” explains Dr. Cohen. “They like that we are offering the treatments that really work. And we know they work, because we participated in the studies. I strive to always have the best technologies that are going to be a home run or at least a triple.”
He is assisted in his aim of offering top dermatologic care by his staff, with whom he regularly holds office meetings to discuss practice policies and concerns. When challenges do arise, he insists that having a sense of humor is crucial. “A lot of things can happen along the way, and I think at the end of the day sometimes you just have to laugh and see it as a learning experience,” says Dr. Cohen.
The Power of Camaraderie
Since dermatology is not a hospital-based practice, it can be challenging for dermatologists to interact with fellow practitioners. Dr. Cohen stays involved in the dermatologic community by preparing and giving lectures, and listening to colleagues lecture at scientific meetings around the world. “Learning from friends and colleagues, whether they are in this city or another, establishing relationships and talking about some of the trends that are happening in our different practices can be very illuminating,” he says of his relationships, which span from Nashville to Milan, Italy. “We learn from each other about everything from office-based protocols and procedures, to what’s on the horizon in Asia or Europe. I also regularly have residents or fellows spend time in the office, and it’s great to learn from them as well.”
These relationships have proven valuable in both honing his skills and growing his practices. Dr. Cohen has built a wide referral network of fellow dermatologists as well as ocular, facial and general plastic surgeons. He notes that maintaining a strong referral network requires one to respect these relationships. “If a plastic surgeon sends me a patient for something that they don’t do, like a laser procedure, I send that patient back to that practice for anything they want to continue doing,” he explains. “If a dermatologist sends a patient in for treatment of blood vessels in the face, I am very careful that I don’t give them a prescription for something else. I send them back to their referring dermatologist.”
He attributes many of his closest personal and professional relationships to dermatologic meetings and is buoyed by the growing crossover among aesthetic specialties. “Being a blend of dermatologic surgeons, ocular, facial and general plastic surgeons, has allowed us to really learn from each other in our respective specialties,” says Dr. Cohen. “I think it’s great our fields have gotten to the point where the turf war is sort of disappearing. Many of the older people have continued, and I think the younger people see this as an opportunity to learn and really develop wonderful relationships. It has been a fun and exciting path that I look forward to continuing to build.”
Janine Ferguson is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.