Revolutionary skin- Musings of a NYC dermatologist

Dr. Strachan speaking at the The Shabazz Center (Audubon Ballroom) in New York City in 2011

What did Che Guevera and Dr. Betty Shabazz have in common? If you answered a respect for the importance of healthy, beautiful skin, then you are correct–revolutionary skin.

In addition to their contributions to political history, Che Guevara, one of the architects of the Cuban revolution, and Dr. Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X and a major civil right activist herself, they both started out in health care.  And they both got it about dermatology.

Che Guevara was actually a dermatologist although he didn’t practice long.   No, he didn’t get frustrated doing cosmetic procedures on the bourgeois and then become a revolutionary.  He had gone into medicine having an interest in alleviating the poverty and suffering he witnessed in South America.  He treated conditions like leprosy, syphilis, and cancer.  He knew that skin disease could be a major source of suffering. 

Regardless of your political opinions of Cuba, it would be difficult to argue that they don’t have an excellent health care system.  Che Guevara, a dermatologist, crafted the Cuban health care system.  No, it’s not perfect but neither is ours. Cuban doctors are, however,  active and respected in the international medical community.  Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Cuba, legally, for work.  In addition to a great daquiri recipe, I got to meet Cuban dermatologists and see some things about their health system first hand.   Despite being tight on resources itself, Cuba sends doctors to countries where there is a need.  They even offer free medical education to foreign students including Americans.  It was only when I was on my way back to America, while I was waiting in the Bahamas for my transfer, did I glance over the line in my guide book that mentioned Guevara’s medical background in dermatology.  It made sense to me.  Understanding skin gives you insight into overall health.  This may also explain why dermatologists are often popular choices for dean in institutions of medical education.

So, you may be thinking, what was Dr. Betty Shabazz’s specialty?  No, Dr. Shabazz was not a dermatologist–she wasn’t a physician at all.  Her doctorate was in education.  Before becoming Dr. Shabazz, however, she did work in health care– but as a nurse.  When I gave my talk last week at The Shabazz Center in upper Manhattan, one of her daughters  introduced me and shared some of her mother’s insights about skin.  She mentioned that, raising six daughters, her mother always emphasized the importance to taking excellent care of their skin.  She stated that her mother believed that clear skin was important for self esteem and made it easier to be out in front of the world.  Dr. Betty Shabazz, taking on world issues and raising six daughters on her own, was not dismissive about the cosmetic importance of skin.

If you already have healthy, beautiful skin count your blessings.  If you don’t, there is no shame is doing something about it.  Even big thinkers in the history of the world thought that addressing skin issues was important.

Today at Aglow Dermatology, we donated to the disaster relief efforts in Japan using the resources we have received through care of people’s skin to contribute toward the alleviation of suffering and the rebuilding of a nation.  We encourage you to give, too.

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