Listening to Dr. Victoria Werth lecture in dermatology is like taking a master class —one where you hang onto every word and commit to developing your career with as high a degree of intention as she has.
The DF’s 2022 Lifetime Career Educator Award recipient has had a purposeful approach to her 35-year career. She progressed from internal medicine to medical dermatology, rheumatologic dermatology, and autoimmune skin disease.
Her accomplishments are numerous. Among them: she has cofounded dermatology societies, held leadership roles in dermatology societies and organizations, she works diligently to build bridges across medical professions, she conducts research that identifies new treatments for patients. Yet her dedication to educating trainees on the importance of managing complex dermatologic diseases within the whole patient is her most significant contribution to the specialty, according to Women’s Dermatologic Society (WDS) members Kathy Schwarzenberger, MD, and Jean L. Bolognia, MD.
Students and conduits
Dr. Werth believes education is inherent in caring for patients and research, its primary conduit. “Research and education go hand in hand,” she said, “and I want my mentees to see the importance of doing both clinical and translational research in autoimmune dermatology, both of which I think are badly needed.”
A passion for autoimmune disease is the magnet that drew her to teaching in what she asserts is “a fairly underdeveloped part of the field.” She encourages students to develop an interest in the specialty and to consider it a viable career choice.
Each year, Dr. Werth mentors two to three predoctoral fellows. During that time, they observe how she relates to her patients, some of whom have been in her care for several decades. In following Dr. Werth’s model for patient relationships, the fellows are privileged; they can understand the crucial role listening plays in defining a course of treatment.
Books and mentors
It isn’t often that a book influences one’s career path, yet precisely that is what happened when Dr. Werth read Dr. Irwin Braverman’s now classic reference text, Skin Signs of Systemic Disease (1971). She was an internist then, and Dr. Braverman’s treatise on diagnosing underlying skin diseases sparked her interest. “I was drawn to a field where I would think more systemically about patients, develop therapies, and manage them,” she said.
Dr. Werth trained under Dr. Irwin M. Freedberg, then chair of NYU’s dermatology department, with whom she shared an appreciation for the laboratory and investigation. He is recognized as an educator and dermatologist who advanced the study of the genetic foundation of skin, hair, and nails. “He provided an opportunity for me to do a post-doctoral fellowship at NYU in immuno-dermatology. As a result, I created one of the first translational research fellowships.”
When she met Dr. Andrew Franks, she worked in a basic science lab to develop her clinical expertise. He was a role model for the career she envisioned — an internist/dermatologist/rheumatologist. His mentorship led to a position at Bellevue Hospital, where her emphasis was managing patients with autoimmune diseases. It laid the groundwork for her vision as a researcher and educator.
The DF Research Award Program has supported Dr. Werth’s research since 1987. She received two fellowships (1987 and 1988), a research award (2004), and the Honorary Lifetime Career Educator Award (2019).
During her 34 years as a DF member and volunteer, she has held leadership roles as a DF Clinical Symposium faculty member (2009), Research Award Program mentor (2011-2014, 2020), Pennsylvania state vice-chair (2004, 2005, 2017, 2018), and Medical and Scientific Committee member and chair of its Clinical Panel (2005-2007).
As an Annenberg Circle Sustainer, she demonstrates exceptional commitment to the DF’s mission to support research.
Societies and bridges
Her vision — sharing knowledge, debating issues of concern, and advancing research –prompted her, Richard D. Sontheimer, MD, and Thomas T. Provost, MD, to cofound, in 1994, the Medical Dermatology Society (MDS). Drs. Sontheimer, Werth, and Provost established the MDS to foster interest and cooperative, patient-centered research in adult complex medical dermatology.
Ten years later, in 2006, Dr. Werth and Dr. Sontheimer, along with several others in rheumatologic dermatology, started the Rheumatologic Dermatology Society (RDS) for dermatologists who manage complex rheumatologic dermatology patients.
When she had completed her medical training, one of Dr. Werth’s mentors asked what she intended to do next. “I replied that I wanted to link centers together and get evidence for what we do in medical dermatology.”
She has been firm in this conviction.
Dr. Werth works with physicians outside her specialty whose expertise contributes to expanding knowledge of multi-systemic diseases. “It’s imperative to understand the full spectrum of our field,” said Dr. Werth.
One of her goals as an educator was to combine medical and dermatology programs at the University of Pennsylvania. She and Dr. Sontheimer developed a proposal and lobbied the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Dermatology for approval, which they received. Today, the combined five-year program is available in five locations across the US.
“We’re now linking centers where rheumatologists and dermatologists can work together—and it’s expanding this part of the field in dermatology:” possibly her most outstanding achievement thus far.
Introducing the Medical Dermatology Society, Richard D. Sontheimer M.D., Victoria Werth, M.D., Thomas T. Provost, M.D. Dermatology Online Journal: Volume 2 Number 1:8. 1996
Lifetime Career Educator Award: What it Takes
The Lifetime Career Educator Award recognizes a full-time academician who has dedicated their career to educating dermatology residents and fellows.
The candidate may be an MD, D or PhD in a dermatology department or division, and has a lifelong history of dedicated service as a mentor and role model for trainees in the department. The candidate should be known for their ability to enthusiastically impart knowledge, as well as inspire the student of dermatology to pursue a greater understanding of the specialty.
Dr. Victoria Werth is a Professor of Dermatology and Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Chief of Dermatology, Philadelphia VAMC. An internist and dermatologist with a practice devoted to autoimmune skin diseases, she has guided development and validation of disease severity tools currently being used in lupus, dermatomyositis, and autoimmune blistering disease studies. She leads a multicenter collaborative, web-based database to collect prospective information on patients with skin and systemic manifestations of lupus erythematosus: the first systematic epidemiologic study of cutaneous lupus erythematosus in the United States.
She co-founded the Medical Dermatology Society and the Rheumatologic Dermatology Society and has held numerous leadership positions, including President of the Rheumatologic Dermatology Society, President of the National Association of VA Dermatologists, and Vice-President of the Society of Investigative Dermatology.
She served on the Dermatology Foundation’s Medical and Scientific Committee, and Chair of its Clinical Panel.
Furie R, Hough D, Gaudy A, Ye Y, Korish S, Delev N, Weiswasser M, Zhan, Schafer P, Werth V.: Iberdomide in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, ascending-dose, phase 2a study Lupus Science & Medicine Lupus 9:e000581, 2022 Notes: doi: 10.1136/lupus-2021-000581.
Werth VP, Culton DA, Concha JSS, Graydon JS, Blumberg LJ, Okawa J, Pyzik, Blumberg RS, Hall III RS.: Safety, Tolerability, and Activity of ALXN1830 Targeting the Neonatal Fc Receptor in Chronic Pemphigus. J Invest Dermatol 141: 2858-2865, December 2021.