A Medical Student’s Understanding of Hidradenitis Suppurativa

Note from Admin: One of the things that we often see and hear in patient discussions is questioning why we don’t have a larger supply of HS knowledgeable medical professionals. Slowly but surely, that supply is increasing. Here’s what a current medical student has to say about his journey to learning more about HS.

In medical school, our dermatology curriculum was condensed to a week, with the discussion around Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS) lasting no more than a few minutes. It was buried under the more familiar and well-researched skin conditions like atopic dermatitis (eczema), psoriasis, and skin cancer. I learned that HS was a chronic inflammatory condition of some kind that caused abscesses, nodules or tracts, more commonly referred to as “boils” or “cysts” in areas of skin folds such as underarms, under the breasts, and in the groin area. Though I had seen pictures of the condition, I had never encountered or treated a patient with HS throughout my first three years in medical school.

However, my understanding of HS underwent a profound transformation when I joined Dr. Chris Sayed’s team at UNC as a research fellow. On my first day in the clinic, I walked into the patient room with Dr. Sayed, nervous and excited, with a clipboard full of research forms ready to observe the patient encounter and at the end, enroll my first HS patient. The young women, visibly uncomfortable, had driven multiple hours to see Dr. Sayed. As I listened intently to her story over the next 30 mins, I realized the crucial aspects of HS my medical school experience thus far had failed to convey.

Our brief lecture on HS had failed to emphasize the immense impact of this disease on the daily lives and wellbeing of patients. These individuals employed various strategies to cope with the draining lesions caused by HS in an attempt to maintain a sense of normalcy and independence in their lives. Many felt embarrassed while discussing this often misunderstood and stigmatized medical condition with loved ones, strangers, and medical professionals alike. The associated pain often left them unable to work or carry out their routine activities, leaving them desperate for answers and effective treatments. Only while sitting in front of patients in the clinic was I able to observe the human experiences of this disease.

My time spent with HS patients in Dr. Sayed’s clinic so far has been a humbling and transformative experience. It has ignited a passion within me to delve deeper into research and advocacy to better understand this disease and its profound impact on the lives of those affected.

Rayad Shams, Medical Student and HS Research Fellow