Blazing her own path

Why Kanya Ferguson was inspired to launch Iowa’s first Ethnic Skin Care Clinic.

Editor’s note: September is Women in Medicine Month. This is the fourth in a series of articles showcasing how women in UI Health Care are changing medicine, changing lives.

Growing up in Zimbabwe—a resource-poor country—Kanya Ferguson, MD, noticed the health care disparities present in her community. The experience inspired her to pursue a career in medicine with a goal to provide quality health care to individuals, irrespective of their resources or ability to pay.

“I knew that I could make a difference in medicine,” says Ferguson, who was born in California and attended undergraduate and medical school at the University of Missouri. Her path in medicine led to the University of Iowa for her dermatology residency and fellowship in micrographic surgery and dermatologic oncology.

Ferguson says she landed on dermatology because it gave her the opportunity to do a little bit of everything: clinical work, surgery, research, and global work. And her experience with strong mentors has kept her at the University of Iowa.

“Throughout my education and career, I’ve had so many mentors—particularly strong female mentors,” explains Ferguson. “The support I received from the Department of Dermatology encouraged me, but it also challenged me to work harder because I knew that they recognized potential in my work.”

Work that is unique in the state of Iowa, and rare across the United States.

Desire to make a difference

In 2015, Ferguson launched the Ethnic Skin Care Clinic. Working within the Department of Dermatology, the clinic offers specialized services for patients of color (defined as skin types IV-VI in the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Classification).

The clinic addresses medical and cosmetic concerns unique to this patient demographic, including pigmentary disorders, hair disorders, keloids, and other dermatologic issues. Services include general dermatologic medical treatment and procedural services such as laser, injections, minor cutaneous surgery, and more.

“We’re showing our community that there is culturally competent and sensitive care out there for them,” she says. “It’s such an important and underserved service that we offer to our patients.”

Not done yet

As a winner of the National Minority Quality Forum’s 40 Under 40 Leaders in Minority Health Award, winner of the 2018 Corridor Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 Award, head of the diversity committee in the Department of Dermatology, and incoming Chair of the American Academy of Dermatology Diversity Committee, it’s probably fair to say that Ferguson has accomplished her high school dream of making a difference in medicine.

But Ferguson isn’t done yet. She’s now heavily focused on promoting the development of further diversity in medicine and dermatology. She has been involved on the local and national level and worked to develop science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programming and mentorship opportunities.

“I know first-hand the power of mentorship,” says Ferguson. “The mentors in my life have believed in my potential and challenged me. Now I’d like to do the same for others.”