Some of us are lucky to know early on exactly what we want to do in life and how to get there. Most of us, however, take a less direct route where luck and circumstance lead us to the choices that will ultimately govern our professional lives.
Dr. Sean Strother, owner of Strother Dermatology in Kirkland, found his passion after early inclinations suggested he might take another path. Strother was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, later moving with his family to a town near Shreveport.
The move north was fortuitous in that it gave the teenager the opportunity to compete for a spot at the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts, a state-funded charter school for high-achieving juniors and seniors. These two years were formative in shaping his future.
“I was always interested in biology, and I loved academics.,” Dr. Strother says.
He also met the woman who would become his wife, Delilah, here. They will celebrate their 30th anniversary this year.
Next came Louisiana State University, where Dr. Strother enrolled thinking he would go into medicine, a career Delilah was also pursuing. Fairly early on, he took a class in entomology, and the first time he looked at a beetle under a microscope he was mesmerized. He knew this was something he would do for the rest of his life.
“I’m a visual learner, and beetles were visually fascinating to me,” he says.
After completing his undergraduate degree in zoology, he aimed to get his Ph.D. in entomology. Unfortunately, entomology research is not well funded, and the few positions in academia have many qualified candidates lined up for them. Pragmatism won out, but the bugs would become a lifelong hobby.
The LSU Medical Center in Shreveport was integral to his development as a physician.
“I loved it,” Dr. Strother says. “It was wonderfully competitive, the professors were engaging, and because it was connected to a community hospital, they were working with patients.”
After using microscopes as a means to problem-solving, Dr. Strother wondered at first how he would fare face to face with patients. His third year brought the opportunity to find out in clinical rotations, and he embraced it.
“Being a physician allows you to create a safe environment where the patient will tell you what’s going on,” he says. “They’ll not only tell you what’s wrong; they’ll often tell you how to fix it.”
Dr. Strother initially had his eye on obstetrics and gynecology, but the National Resident Matching System, which matches med students to residency programs through a ranking assessment, had other ideas. The Pacific Northwest called when Delilah got into a residency program at UW, and he got into a one-year internal medicine program there. As part of his program, he had the chance to work in the university’s dermatology clinic, and that sparked a new interest. After his first day there ended, he spent hours at the UW library that night reading about dermatology. The program had one opening for the following year, and he got in.
Finding a Good Match
After completing his training, he and a business partner, Dr. Frank Baron, owned Island Dermatology on Mercer Island. Dr. Strother and his wife had two young daughters then, and trying to run and own a business was challenging in a family of two physicians. He later sold his interest in the practice and shortly after joined Dr. Peter Cooperrider at his Laser Treatment Center in Kirkland. Dr. Strother had met Dr. Cooperrider when he was a resident, and the doctor approached him about working with him.
At first, Dr. Strother was happy to be an employee rather than an owner.
“As a medical resident, you don’t really get any business training,” Dr. Strother says.
But several years later, Dr. Cooperrider decided to retire, and Dr. Strother once again had the opportunity to own a business.
“You can either buy it, or you’re going to have a new boss,” Dr. Cooperrider says.
Dr. Strother decided to take the plunge. Dr. Cooperrider had established a respected practice and was an early innovator in laser treatments. From the 1980s on, he had a reputation as being in the vanguard of this technology.
“He loved new gadgets,” Dr. Strother says, “and he taught locally and internationally.”
Taking Over a Practice
Dr. Strother bought the practice in 2013, and since then he has not only maintained the practice but also sought to grow it. He says he loves the business.
“I get to take care of a whole age range of patients; that part is fun,” he says.
Being the office pathologist and reading 90 percent of the biopsies of his practice also allows him to indulge his fascination with microscopic examination.
Strother Dermatology provides both medical and aesthetic dermatology services. In 2019, the office will be contracting with Medicare so the medical part of the practice will likely grow, along with the aesthetic side. Dr. Strother says they don’t compete with plastic surgeons but rather provide medically based aesthetic services, which are in demand in Kirkland.
A big part of Dr. Strother’s practice is teaching patients.
“I enjoy educating people,” he says.
If people are intimidated by the thought of visiting a dermatologist for a problem, “this takes the fear out of it,” he says.
It also involves really listening to patients about what is bothering them and tailoring a treatment to what they need for their particular issue. The treatment is very individualized, he says.
“I try to think, ‘If I were going to approach this for myself, what would I need to know in order to make a decision that is right for me?’”
One cannot wrap up a conversation with a dermatologist without asking about the best ways to take care of one’s skin. Dr. Strother named his top three: 1. Protect yourself from UV light (if you’re unconvinced of sun damage, he says, compare the inside of your arm with the outside of your arm; they’re both the same age); 2. Maintain a healthy lifestyle in terms of a balanced diet, exercise and enough sleep; and 3. If you’re a smoker, stop!
Dr. Strother has seen growth and change in dermatology practice in the last decade. For example, men are increasingly seeking solutions for their dermatological problems.
“They are becoming more comfortable with changing their appearance,” he says.
He added that most people are not looking for drastic change but rather to make smaller changes that make them feel a little more confident. The sheer variety of approaches one can take to addressing skin problems is part of what keeps it interesting.
As for what’s on the horizon dermatologically, the research is really exciting, Dr. Strother says. Dermatology will benefit from genetic studies with new, targeted treatments that work with people’s genetic makeup. We’ll also see advances in anti-aging care along with more preventative measures, which may help reduce the need for more serious medical interventions later on. It’s all part of the bigger picture of dermatology that Dr. Strother looks forward to sharing with his patients in the years to come.