SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — University of California, San Francisco has opened a new clinic called Skin of Color, and patients are traveling from as far away as Santa Cruz for its services for those with darker skin.
Dr. Jenna Lester runs the clinic, and she holds the distinction of being one of the only black dermatologists in San Francisco.
“I think of it as a responsibility, because studies have shown that diversity in medicine improves outcomes for patients who are typically thought of as underrepresented,” said Lester.
Black people are far less likely to develop skin cancer than white people, but they usually have later diagnoses and higher death rates, said Lester. Inflammatory, and hair and scalp disorders are more common, particularly in African-American women.
“There’s, again, a barrier to coming to the doctor for fear of being misunderstood or for seeing someone who doesn’t understand your hair and doesn’t understand your hair care practices,” she added.
“Right away I felt a connection, a very warm connection,” said Elba Clemente-Lambert, one of Dr. Lester’s first patients at the clinic.
Part of the reason for that connection is that Clemente-Lambert was a longtime administrative employee at UCSF. She was heavily involved in the university’s black caucus, founded 50 years ago. She took part in many protests, demanding that there be more students and staff of color at UCSF.
Now, she’s being seen at the Skin of Color clinic regarding a scalp condition that is causing hair loss.
“It makes me feel very confident in the outcome and makes me feel like it’s something that I’m very proud of,” said Clemente-Lambert.
Nationwide, only five percent of doctors are black. Dr. Lester, who was educated at Harvard and Brown University, says one of the goals of the clinic to close the gaps in medical knowledge in the UCSF community through education and research.
The upstate New York native says she knew early on that access to care was a problem for black communities.
“I come from an area of the country where wait times for dermatology are 150 days,” said Dr. Lester.
Eventually she wants to expand the clinic to teach other dermatologists to work with people of color.
Right now, the clinic does not have a set location or hours. Patients usually find Dr. Lester by word of mouth, or referral.