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New: The Last Dermatologist to the Poor

By Ted Friedman
Friday December 14, 2012 - 05:23:00 PM
Chinese comedian, left foreground; overflow crowd, background.
Ted Friedman
Chinese comedian, left foreground; overflow crowd, background.

What may be the last dermatologist to Oakland's poor happens to be my dermatologist, as well. That this is the case says something about us both, but I'd rather cover his story. 

It took a comment by a fellow dermatology patient to get my attention. The patient had a diabetic condition that caused his blood to rush to his skin, he said. 

And my dermatologist was the only one in Oakland who would treat his condition. Did he mean that my dermatologist was the only dermo in Oakland, who would accept Medical-Medicaid? 

I asked my dermatologist about this, and he said, gravely, this was true. 

If you live in Berkeley, and have stripped-to-the -bones coverage, you may meet my doc. He's a dermatologist to the rich in an upscale Contra County enclave, in his other life. 

Still, he devotes four days a week to Oakland, and half of the fifth. 

Why didn't I notice that the cracker-box waiting room, and doll-house examination rooms told a story. Was this what has become of the safety-net? Every time I have an appointment, there is a waiting line to rival stadium toilet lines. 

The waiting room over-flowed the office, which was too small to contain the crowd, which spilled out into a cracker-box hallway. But it is on Pill Hill.  

The waiting line is predominately Asian elderly, Latinos, and the rare black, and even rarer Caucasians . A linguist would welcome the opportunity to hear the tower of Babel 


These waiting lines may be telling us something. It tells us that many dermatologists won't take medi-cal. 

Perhaps the lines tell us, that although dermatology is glamorous when it removes movie stars' blemishes, it is less so when dealing with the blemishes of the poor, who are more likely to have more serious conditions. 

Well, we get no glamour here, except for the dermo, who is very entertaining. He speaks no foreign languages, though. 

(Most non-English speakers are accompanied by an English speaking relative). 


Often, the dermo's waiting room crowd (crammed into a snuff box--seating ten, crammed elbow to elbow on K-Mart chairs) spills into the equally small hallway. The intimacy in the office leads to pick-up conversations (Wednesday, two women discussed hair styles).  

In a narrow Oakland hallway, we were galvanized by an Asian comedian, who didn't realize his comedic flare. 

He had a comedian's patter, a staccato delivery and a lively mind. "Obama, wants to tax the rich," he began. "Doctor's are rich, right? They all make more than $250,000." 

"Dermatologists, are at the low end," I said. "Radiologists and Anesthesiologists 

earn the most; I think dermatologists are at the bottom." 

"But they earn enough to be taxed by Obama, don't they?" he persisted. 

"I don't know," I said. "I haven't looked it up." 

When I did: Forbes Magazine had ranked dermatologists seventh (out of twenty) in medical incomes, at $364,000. The comedian was right. Our dermo was making big bucks, but how could he make that on us? 

Perhaps he's running a low-cost office, with an exclusive mass audience of poor people.. 

He's written papers and spoken at medical conventions. 

The next time I see him, I'm going to ask him what makes him tick. 


Our South-side Reporter, went off-beat, as usual. He also writes a "philosophical" sex column, Sex@Cal ™ for Berkeley Reporter.