Wm. Philip Werschler, MD, FAAD, FAACS, is one of the most recognizable physicians in the field of cosmetic dermatology. If you attend scientific meetings and stay up to date with the medical aesthetics industry, you are likely familiar with his name. As the son of a WWII veteran turned mail carrier and a housekeeper, Dr. Werschler knew he wanted to pursue a practical career. It was an early interest in science and an ongoing struggle with acne in his teen years that put him on the path to medicine. “I had acne as a teenager and had really connected with my dermatologist over the years,” he says. “When I went to college, I thought that being pre-med would be the best way to combine my interest in science with a practical career option.”
By the time he reached his final year at the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he knew that dermatology was where he wanted to be. “We see kids, seniors, men and women, and we see people with all kinds of concerns,” he says. “I think dermatology is fascinating in that way, and this was before there was much in the way of cosmetic dermatology.”
The Birth of Cosmetic Dermatology
After graduating medical school in 1985, Dr. Werschler completed his preliminary residency training in internal medicine at the University of Arizona, then returned to George Washington University for his dermatology fellowship. At this point in the mid-1980s, cosmetic dermatology was still in its infancy. Dermatology itself was essentially a sub-specialty of internal medicine, says Dr. Werschler.
“The only filler available was collagen—there was no Botox. Not many people did collagen: It didn’t last very long, it was expensive and results were not great,” he says. “Then the first pulse-dye lasers came out—we were fortunate enough to have one of those lasers at George Washington, and it was huge, like the original computers. It was very slow and cantankerous, and it would break a lot. But it worked.”
Though it was gaining momentum, the future of cosmetic dermatology was still unclear, and Dr. Werschler credits the chairman of the dermatology department at the time, Mervyn L. Elgart, MD, for insisting that his residents be trained in the new procedures. “I was fortunate enough to be in an institution with the visionary Dr. Elgart. He said, ‘I think cosmetic dermatology is going to be a big deal, and I want my residents to be exposed to it,’” says Dr. Werschler. “So as residents we were trained in lasers, collagen, hair transplants, dermabrasion and the very first inklings of Retin-A as a wrinkle cream. This was when cosmetic dermatology was born.”
Entering Private Practice
After completing his residency, Dr. Werschler followed a traditional career path for dermatologists at the time: He went into practice with an older doctor who was gearing up for retirement.
“The traditional route was to join someone in the second half of their career,” he says. “Five to ten years later they’d retire or slow down and you’d take over, and then five or ten years after that you’d bring somebody else in. That’s exactly what I did.”
Photo courtesy of J. Craig Sweat.