Get to Know: Chair of Dermatology, Arturo P. Saavedra, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAD

At a Glance

  • Combined Medical and Doctoral Degree: University of Pennsylvania
  • Residency: Internal Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  • Residency: Dermatology, Harvard Hospitals
  • Fellowship: Dermapathology, Harvard Hospitals
  • MBA: Babson College

On Oct. 1, 2017, Arturo P. Saavedra, MD, PhD, MBA, joined the University of Virginia as Professor and Chair of the Department of Dermatology. Saavedra specializes in the diagnosis and care of complex medical dermatology, and his clinical interests include HIV dermatology, severe drug reactions that manifest with dermatologic complications, and care of oncologic and post-transplant patients. Saavedra came to UVA from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, where he was vice chair for clinical affairs and medical director of the Department of Dermatology.

Why did you decide to become a dermatologist?
In most other specialties, physicians rely on blood work, imaging and a variety of diagnostic techniques. In dermatology, you are less dependent on such diagnostic tools than on the physical exam. There is an immediacy about being able to form an opinion based on what you can see, feel, and even smell that I find very satisfying.

How did your residency in internal medicine impact your practice?
Training in internal medicine helped me think about the body holistically. It also taught me how therapy in one organ may affect another. As dermatologists, we often use the side effects of established medications to treat skin disorders. For instance, when you have scarring, you may prescribe steroids not because you want to decrease inflammation but because thinning the skin is one of their side effects. Internal medicine gave me an understanding of the mechanism of many drugs and experience managing their side effects so that I could use these side effects in my practice.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
I am incredibly interested in anything that is paradigm shifting in medicine, whether that is a new way of running a clinic, seeing patients or treating disease. One reason that I pursued my MBA was to gain the skills needed to help move these innovations to patients, whether through research or administration.

What type of skin conditions do you treat?
I would encourage physicians to refer patients with blisters of the skin that are unexplained or who have experienced an extended period of skin redness that has not responded to antibiotic regimens or skin creams. I also treat patients who need systemic therapies for control of their skin disease.

Treatment of patients who lack a normal immune system—transplant patients and patients with HIV—is a particular interest of mine. I have experience treating patients who develop infection, cancer and graft-versus-host disease after bone marrow transplantation. I also treat autoimmune disorders of the skin like pemphigus and skin cancers like cutaneous T cell lymphoma.

What attracted you to the University of Virginia Health System?
I think the University of Virginia is a place that is incredibly committed to its role in the local community, but pushes itself to evolve. It is not a place that I felt was easily gratified by small shifts around a mean.

I also was attracted by the cross-fertilization that occurs on a university campus. I have been able to contact professors in the business school to help with questions I have in clinic and talk with people in the School of Education about programs I’m interested in starting. At UVA, you don’t have to walk very far to have a face-to-face meeting and create connections that are synergistic.

How does your department interact with referring physicians?
We encourage electronic consultations. In my mind, they serve a number of critical purposes. First there is access. We can start treating a patient while they are waiting to come in for an appointment. In addition, there is an exchange of knowledge. The referring physicians gain insight they can apply in managing similar patients in the future. At the same time, we gain a better understanding of how we can be of service to primary care physicians. It is a priority for us to provide consultative services to them that fit their needs and those of their patients.

To refer a patient to the UVA Department of Dermatology, call 800.552.3723.