How Community Can Help You Find Success, According to Corey Hartman, MD, FAAD
Growing up in a middle-class suburb of New Orleans in the ‘80s, surrounded by what he calls “Black excellence,” a young Corey L. Hartman knew he was destined to become either a doctor or a lawyer as that was the expectation set by his community. His knack for science, his love of the arts (he sang in the All-State Louisiana Choir for two years), and having a neighbor who was a Black dermatologist made becoming a dermatologist the obvious choice.
“Dermatology appealed to all of my strengths and interests,” says Dr. Hartman, who went on to become a board-certified dermatologist and a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. “Because being a doctor was my destiny and it was a big plus that in this specialty I would get to interact with people and talk all day—which is something I'm good at,” he adds. Early on, Dr. Hartman got a close look at aesthetic dermatology through the work of his neighbor, who was the only Black dermatologist in the New Orleans area at the time, and “even as a kid I thought, in this career you can kind of do a little bit of everything!” To Dr. Hartman, dermatology’s intersection of arts and sciences was “the perfect mix.”
Dr. Hartman is now Founder, Medical Director, and Board-Certified Dermatologist at a practice he founded in Homewood, Alabama in 2009, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He was voted “2016 Best of Birmingham: Dermatologist” by readers of Birmingham Magazine and “2018 Best Dermatologist” by readers of About Town magazine. His resume is packed with professional alliances and leadership positions.
See how community and mutual support helped Dr. Hartman achieve his dream career, and how aspiring providers can follow his lead.
1. Seek community every step of the way.
Dr. Hartman grew up in a nurturing community where “everybody just supported everybody,” he says, going all the way back to preschool. “It wasn't competitive—we all lifted each other up,” and still do. Though college took him to Emory University, where he had a full merit-based scholarship, Dr. Hartman got to check out the scene at nearby colleges Spelman and Morehouse, both HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), where some of his friends went. “And there was nothing like it,” he says. “I wanted to experience that.”
Dr. Hartman chose to attend Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, one of the few HBCU medical schools in the country. While he loved the experience, it was a challenge to pursue dermatology because Meharry didn’t have a dermatology department. “They didn’t even have a dermatologist on staff,” Dr. Hartman recalls. But as tends to happen in a small, supportive community (there were only 80 students in a class), the dean made sure Dr. Hartman got access to the resources he needed. And in the meantime, he enjoyed a very diverse student body and faculty, with a critical mass of Black students.
2. Four suggestions to finding the right mentor.
First, you can never have too many. “I have so many mentors—different reasons, different seasons,” Dr. Hartman says. "There was one influential dermatologist who inspired me when I was growing up. A few of the Black women dermatologists who are truly leaders in this space are also all mentors to me. The theme you’re going to see here is community. They all wanted to see me succeed, and all wanted to see me thrive, and did whatever they could do to help get me there.”
Second, don’t be afraid to reach out to a potential mentor directly, as long as you’re respectful of their time and know exactly what you’re looking for. “Any time I have been approached about being a mentor, I have been open to the idea as long as the person has identified exactly how it is that I can help them,” Dr. Hartman says. “Come with a specific need and ask—those are the people I think that are successful.”
Third, seek out mentors whose careers you’d like to model. For example, Dr. Hartman says, he learned a lot from one of his mentors about academic medicine, but when he visited a globally recognized dermatologic expert based in Los Angeles, he saw what his future could hold. “You had these A-list celebrities walking in [to her office] like it was nothing,” he says. “The nurses are like, ‘What are you here for?’ And they're like, ‘I don't know, whatever the doctor says,’ and I tell this story all the time, because that's how I’ll know I’ve arrived, when patients come in and say, ‘Whatever Dr. Hartman says.’” He adds that other mentors he learned from did a ton of ad boards and research, so he knew he wanted their input and influence on that. Ultimately, “you look for people who are living the life you want and doing the things you want to do,” he says.
Fourth, never stop seeking mentors. “I built a village with other dermatology business owners, and we rely on each other, we kind of mentor each other, like on a peer-to-peer basis,” he says, adding, “There are going to be little things that come up where you want to have a community of people around. I don't know many successful people who can unabashedly say that they never had anybody help them.”
3. Assemble a diverse team and teach them how to treat all skin tones.
It is important that your staff is as diverse as your patient base. Patients may feel more comfortable when they see staff who look like them in a dermatology office. But it is not only how the staff looks, it is equally important to have practitioners who speak your patients’ language, what Dr. Hartman calls having cultural compassion. “A lot of things that are unique to the Black experience are cultural, and they're tied to the particular needs of our hair, skin, etc,” he explains. “I don't think only Black people can deliver services effectively to Black people, but there are definitely a few key things you can pick up on in a conversation that let you know whether or not someone has the cultural competency to meet your needs.”
Another key aspect of treating diverse clientele is appreciating that we are all unique. Dr. Hartman’s goal is to help patients highlight what they like—and really make those features shine through, instead of hiding them or changing them. “My vision for medical aesthetics is a world where different standards and characteristics are celebrated and enhanced and complimented,” he says. “We don't want to turn everybody into the exact same thing.”
4. If you own a practice, expect to devote time to managing people.
Somebody told Dr. Hartman when he first opened his dermatology practice that managing people would be the hardest part of the job, and he discounted it. “And they were 1,000% right,” he says. In his practice, he takes care to nip any possible drama in the bud. “Negativity permeates quickly—it's almost like a cancer, you’ve got to cut it out as soon as you see it,” he says. “The whole point of being here is to help patients achieve their aesthetic goals, so if there's stuff going on that interferes with our ability to deliver that, then we are not doing what’s right by the patients.”
Dr. Hartman is proud that his very first hire, a nurse practitioner, has been with him for 10 years now, and that no doctor has ever left his practice. One of his secrets to maintaining office harmony is that “once you find the right people, treat them well,” he says. “I try to respect everybody. I try to meet people where they are. And I just make sure that we always keep that team approach first and foremost.”
5. It’s OK to say “no” to patients—in fact, they appreciate it.
Social media has erased regional standards of aesthetic goals to some degree, but “there's definitely a different aesthetic in Miami than there is here than there is in New York than there is in Chicago,” Dr. Hartman says. Which is why he finds himself saying “no” to patients more than he says “yes.” “I have a more natural aesthetic, and if that's not for you, then I'm just not the doctor for you,” he says.
Dr. Hartman believes dermatologists have a role to play in protecting people from becoming caricatures of themselves and guiding them toward what actually is best for them. “Because we still are the experts,” he says. He had a patient once say, “I may think I know what I want, but you know better what I need.” His patient added, “I wouldn't trust a doctor who gave me everything that I wanted—I need you to be my check and balance.”
6. The best dermatology begins with psychology.
What is the key to helping patients achieve their goals? “That starts with the consult, and it starts with a relationship,” Dr. Hartman says. Guided by his undergraduate degree in psychology, he always asks patients what brought them into the office. “I like to know their story: Are you preparing for an event, have you had a change in your life, are your friends doing this?” he says. He appreciates that people wear their perceived flaws for all to see.
“Focused on aesthetics, I may not be saving lives on a daily basis, but I can help people with their aesthetic concerns,” he says. He tells the story of a patient who was finally seeing results from her regimen (because she was finally putting in the work), and she got emotional. “And it hit me in the heart too because in a busy clinic, it's easy to get caught up in the everyday rigamarole, but she made me stop and think about the impact that our industry can have on others.”
About Corey Hartman, MD, FAAD
Corey Hartman, MD, FAAD, is the founder and medical director of his practice in Homewood, Alabama, where he lives with his wife and two children. A trusted leader in the Medical Aesthetics industry, he frequently speaks on cosmetic procedures, social media marketing in dermatology at meetings around the country, and serves on multiple Advisory Boards. He was recently named to the Board of Directors of the Skin of Color Society and is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Alabama School of Medicine.