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Good physicians learn a great about their patients’ condition through observation, and skin is often the most revealing attribute of all.
“Dermatology is sometimes called an ‘old-school’ field, because you rely a lot on visual examinations to make a diagnosis,” explains Sanna Ronkainen, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “But skin can also provide valuable clues about what else is going on in the body.”
Collaboration is Key
Along with treating common conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, Dr. Ronkainen frequently collaborates with colleagues in other disciplines, to care for patients whose skin may be affected by HIV, infectious diseases, and malignancies such as cutaneous lymphomas.
“I get to be involved with a patient throughout the course of treatment,” she says. “I always enjoy following their progress, even after my role is pretty much complete.”
The opportunities for professional and patient interaction helped steer the Washington, D.C. native toward a career in medicine.
"I liked science, but couldn’t see myself working in a lab most of the time,” Dr. Ronkainen recalls.
After graduating from Georgetown University School of Medicine, she completed her internal medicine/dermatology residency at the University of Minnesota, where she was the program’s chief resident. The opportunity to return home in 2018 was too good to pass up.
“I love D.C., and liked the Hospital Center, its range of services, and the broad patient population,” she says. “It also helped that my husband is a neurology resident here.”
Exciting Year Ahead
This coming year will be particularly eventful for Dr. Ronkainen. Along with the arrival of her first child, she’ll help launch a new Hospital Center clinic that integrates dermatology and oncology services for cutaneous lymphomas.
"The two areas frequently overlap,” she says. For example, certain cancer treatment regimens have skin-related side effects.
"As we take on cases, we hope to collect data for researching the effectiveness of specific treatments to counteract those effects, and improve the patients’ quality of life,” she adds.
These new professional and family responsibilities will likely sideline Dr. Ronkainen from indulging in her passion for travel, which has included exploring her family’s Finnish roots, and those of her husband in England, and caring for patients in Botswana, under a Resident International Grant from the American Academy of Dermatology.
What won’t change, though, is being able to interact with and help patients.
“There’s nothing better than seeing them after a few months, and hearing how happy they are with the improvement in their skin condition,” Dr. Ronkainen says.