Gary Monheit, MD learned from the best. And that impetus to achieve high standards has driven his surgical dermatology practice for 40 years.
His work at the University of Wisconsin Hospital as a Fellow with innovative cancer researcher and surgeon Frederic Mohs, MD gave Monheit insight into the premier method of treating skin cancers, particularly on the face. By removing only tissue where cancer exists, the Mohs technique combines a very high cure rate with preservation of normal skin, a critical aspect of the treatment.
"I saw the value early in how this procedure could take care of cases in which people didn't think there was a good end point or cure," Monheit said. "It is the most precise method of treating skin cancer, utilizing surgical removal and microscopic mapping as one removes it. The procedure can take care of early skin cancer and limit the extent of treatment necessary.
"I was fortunate to be involved in the early development of this and to rub shoulders with pioneers who championed dermatologic surgery. I'm a past president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Now there are 3,000 members, but I remember our first meeting with just 15 people. They were pioneers of surgical and cosmetic procedures who laid the groundwork for all of the things we do today."
In appreciation of what Monheit learned from his early mentors and collegues, he has since shared his experience in teaching 22 dermatologists and plastic surgeons during their one year fellowship in Mohs and dermatologic surgery. They, in turn, have paved the way by training their own fellows. Monheit calls these his grand fellows, and feels paternal pride at their accomplishments.
He has also closely followed the evolution of cosmetic dermatology from the beginning chemical peels and the early development of laser treatments in removing blemishes and rejuvenating skin. He has been active in the development of botulinum toxin, and has done research for the FDA to verify the safety and efficacy of filling materials and toxins.
Monheit has pioneered a namesake peel that has been well-accepted worldwide as a safe treatment for pigmentation, scarring and wrinkles.
He began as a solo practitioner in 1977. Since then, Total Skin and Beauty has grown into one of the most well-respected dermatology practices in the nation with four physicians involved in medical treatment of skin diseases, surgery, preventative treatment, along with cosmetic care. And in addition to the Fellowship Program, the practice has a research center that conducts clinical trials for new and innovative drugs and devices.
Monheit operates in the surgical center four days a week. He spends one day a week at Callahan Eye Hospital to handle cases in the critical area on the eyelid and around the eye, working with ocular plastic surgeons as a team to approach these difficult problems. He also serves as an assistant professor in UAB's Department of Dermatology, and is fellowship director of the American College of Mohs Surgery, teaching residents dermatologic surgery.
His work requires him to travel frequently, which gives Monheit and his wife the opportunity to indulge their interest in history.
His greatest professional satisfaction comes from working with patients. "It's rewarding to see results with patients," he said. "I'm seeing the third generation of people I started with. It's gratifying to know we are spreading the word about what we can do. People should be taking care of people. Over the years, I have treated each patient personally with respect while providing the best care possible. I have also made many close friends. The human touch is still the most important part of being a physician.
"To me, it's a calling. We all stand on the shoulders of giants. I know I did. There are people standing on my shoulders now, and to have them following in my footsteps is a great feeling."