Beauty at Every Age

A passion for dermatology and a uniquely recognizable name have helped Doris Day, MD, build a successful, multifaceted career.
Beauty at Every Age

How do you juggle a bustling dermatology practice, a hectic teaching schedule, publishing and a family, all while building a reputation as the media’s go-to expert for dermatology and aesthetic medicine? For Doris Day, MD—a board certified dermatologist who specializes in laser, cosmetic and surgical dermatology, and founder of Day Dermatology & Aesthetics on the Upper East Side in New York City—it’s all about balance.

“I have two kids and a husband; I consult, sit on advisory boards, participate in clinical trials, teach, write and have a radio show. I like having a lot going on all at once,” she says. “It gives me energy. I love everything I do and I keep trying to be better at it—to be smarter and more creative, and to make sure that I take the best care of my patients. And that’s a never-ending process.”

All In The Family

Dr. Day lives in the very same building in which she grew up, the building where her anesthesiologist father—and earliest mentor—kept his medical offices. She remembers her father as “a true old-time healer. He looked at the whole person and really tried to understand and heal his patients,” she says. “He took an interest in their lives and in their overall well-being.”

As a teenager, she worked in her father’s practice as his secretary and biller. “I would often speak with his patients who told me how much they loved him. He would tell me that you don’t treat according to textbooks, you treat according to what the patient needs,” says Dr. Day. “You need to understand them and they need to have confidence in you, so you will have that connection. He could do that.”

Dr. Day’s path to dermatology was a circuitous one that started with an early, devastating family tragedy. “I lost my sister to cancer when I was in my late teens. It had such an impact: personal suffering, loss and guilt. I felt helpless and I didn’t want to feel that way,” she says. “I wanted to understand the process of illness and recovery—I thought maybe if I understood it better I wouldn’t feel so bad. I also wanted to write about what people go through, really examine hospice care and the quality of life and dignity over the length of one’s life, so that people could understand all the things that I didn’t.”

This desire to educate and connect led Dr. Day to pursue a career as a medical journalist before attending medical school. She completed her undergraduate work at Columbia University then graduated from NYU with a master’s degree in journalism and science writing. Her work as a journalist coincided with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. One of the presenting signs of this much-misunderstood epidemic was Kaposi’s sarcoma, which opened her eyes to the role of dermatologists in health care.

The Deepest Medical Field

Dr. Day realized that dermatology is perhaps the deepest of all medical fields because the skin is a powerful reflection of a person’s overall health and well-being. “As an internist, I could tell someone to eat less salt because it would lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke, and the patient might just shrug it off,” she says. “But as a dermatologist, if I tell a patient that her eyes won’t be as puffy if she cuts down on salt, she’ll say ‘OK!’”

Through this diagnostic angle, Dr. Day tries to help patients improve their overall health—whether through smoking cessation, increased exercise, or better sleep and diet—by explaining that it will make their skin look better. “I could make so many more diagnoses through the skin than I could as an internist, and I have my patients’ involvement. They are as invested in their care as I am because we have a common path,” she says. “I can get them to quit smoking, go to a therapist or do whatever it takes to get better, and when they see the difference in their skin we rejoice in that. It’s very rewarding.”

Photo by Keith Barraclough.