by Carly Dawkins, Jessie Kalish and Erik Bacharach
As a dermatologist, Harpur College alum Edmund Lee's work is among the most competitive of medical specialties, so the advice he gave to Binghamton students interested in becoming doctors was invaluable.
"You have to be on," Lee said. "It's show time 30 times a day. You can't let the last (patient) influence the next one. You have to be right."
Lee '80 spoke as part of the Harpur College Physician Alumni Lecture Series on Nov. 15. He shared his experiences as a dermatologist at Mount Sinai North Shore Medical Group in Huntington, N.Y., and showed photographs of the progress his patients made after treatment.
"It's challenging, because in dermatology if you fail to treat a rash everybody knows," he said.
While the pressure of getting it right every time is part of the job, so is the personal fulfillment that comes with helping people.
"You get to know people," Lee said. "You take care of them and that's a good thing. ... Professional satisfaction is getting to do your job well. It's quite satisfying to help people stay healthy."
One of Lee's patients, a sculptor, was afflicted with a chronic rash on her feet, jeopardizing her job because she could not stand. A smiling picture of the same patient after treatment showed the final product of Lee's efforts. "She can function, enjoy her life and make a living," Lee said.
"No scar, no loss of function. That's what we can do in dermatology."
However, Lee said that being a doctor is more than treating symptoms. "If they're not diagnosed properly and they're just treated for a rash, we're not helping them," he said.
For instance, a patient with a chronic rash could be suffering from something more serious. "If I just treat the rash and don't talk about cardiac risk factors, I don't do her any favors," Lee said. "Being ahead of the curve and trying to prevent disease is a big part of my practice."
Lee built the foundation of his ambition and work ethic at Harpur College, where he majored in biochemistry.
"Being on call is no big deal; I've done all nighters in the Science Library," Lee said to laughing students.
Lee cited his biochemistry advisor, Fred Kull, as a major influence on his life.
"He told me, 'Be a physician and help one person at a time, or do biomedical research and perhaps help millions you'll never meet,'" Lee said of Kull.
"Kull made me think, 'There's something else beyond medical school.'"
After graduating from Binghamton University, Lee earned a doctorate in pharmacology from Rutgers University. He later earned his MD from Harvard University, where he was elected by his peers to serve on the school's admissions committee.
Following Kull's advice, Lee went on to do translational research in psoriasis at Rockefeller University.
Lee acknowledged that the road to becoming a doctor is complicated, and sympathized with students in the middle of the medical school application process.
"You can get jaded about the process because it's difficult," Lee said, "but there's an end to that. Don't confuse the process of getting in with the profession."
One of Lee's main points was not to underestimate the interview.
"You only have one chance," Lee said. "You have to be serious, entertaining, informative and thoughtful all at once."
Lee also emphasized the importance of a good personal statement.
"If you hand something in and it makes someone choke up a little bit, or smile, that's a good personal statement," Lee said. "You want them to say, 'I want this guy to be my doctor.'"
Above all, Lee advised students to follow their hearts, and never do something for the sake of padding an application or résumé.
"Participate in significant community issues, and demonstrate leadership in those activities," Lee said. "Be able to speak and write about your experiences and achievements."
For Lee, each applicant's unique path is crucial to how they approach what Lee called the most important question pre-med students can ask themselves: Why do I really want to be a doctor?
Lee's advice on this front was simple. "I can't tell you," he said. "You have to answer that."
Last Updated: 6/3/15