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Joel Schlessinger, MD: Priorities and Passion

By: Cathy Christensen
Posted: January 29, 2010, from the January 2010 issue of
Dr. Schlessinger holds a chart in the hallway of his practice

Physician's assistant Jacqueline Clegg is Schlessinger's right-hand woman, offering her energy and intelligence to staff and patients alike. Photography by Ophir Palmon, Artistic Visions

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The offices that house the various ventures of Joel Schlessinger, MD, are similar to a labyrinth, with each door leading to a different opportunity for career success. Upon entering the building, if you turn left, you can walk through the doors of the newly renovated Aesthetica Day Spa and be welcomed by an open space decorated with carefully chosen amber mosaic tiles and a layout that is open, yet well-thought-out. If you turn right, you enter through the doors of the Advanced Center for Research, a dermatologic and cosmetic research arm led by Schlessinger that tests and researches various treatments. And if you continue forward, you open the doors to Skin Specialists, PC, located in the middle part of the building. After walking through the waiting room, you enter a corridor with high ceilings appointed with skylights, offering a sampling of the day to patients, and come to the center of the office, which houses the nurses’ station, a bustling hub offering an oasis to every professional who works in the building. It is the physical heart of the practice, offering everything from files to fillers for any one of the 39 team members who help run the practice.

This team is something that Schlessinger is incredibly passionate about, making sure its needs are met and its voices are heard, but also working to reach out to its members as people, too. Stories of concerts, movie nights and charity events are told by multiple staff members, who smile at their recollections as they march down the corridor to the next waiting patient.

“We’re around such incredible people; we are so fortunate with the people surrounding us in our endeavors,” says Nancy Schlessinger, the doctor’s wife, who also plays an important role in the practice’s hiring and accounts payable. “Endeavors” is a perfect word to describe the efforts of this physician who is finding career recognition and success on his own terms, not allowing his career to run him, but taking the reigns and running it based on time management, priorities and gut instinct.

The decision for dermatology

“Ever since I was five, I knew that I wanted to be a physician, but I had no clue I wanted to be a dermatologist until I was most of the way through my pediatric residency,” says Schlessinger, who wanted to be a pediatrician and completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, Rhode Island, graduating summa cum laude. He then studied the basic sciences of medical school at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “I didn’t love the fact that I would be dealing with really sick kids who could potentially die, and in order to make myself deal with that, I found that I was losing my sensitivity,” he explains.

Schlessinger was hoping to work in pediatric dermatology, but he found the specialty wasn’t very busy because most pediatricians are comfortable dealing with skin issues in children. “I found that dermatology was a great specialty, and I really enjoy the procedural aspect of it, performing such offerings as sclerotherapy,” he says. Sclerotherapy is a technique at which Schlessinger excels, due to the experience he had when learning how to get IVs into premature infants during his pediatric education. He cites dermatologist and mentor Barry Ginsberg, MD, who he worked with during his pediatric residency at the University of Alabama Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, as the person who taught him the technique. “Back in 1987, Ginsberg had a very cosmetic practice for the time, and he was ahead of the curve because he was into sclerotherapy. He was doing fillers, he was doing quite a bit of stuff that was almost unheard of back then. He encouraged me to consider dermatology as a career, so I applied to a dermatology residency and was accepted at Washington University in St. Louis,” says Schlessinger.