Paper Planes and Career Paths

Dr. H Alan Arbuckle
Pediatric Dermatologist

Warm, funny and honest, Dr. H. Alan Arbuckle is an open book

From growing up gay in a small town in Northern California to treating inner city trauma patients in the nation’s capital as well as serving as a Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Public Health Services for 16 years, personal and professional experiences have both consciously and subconsciously shaped his pediatric dermatology practice at Colorado Permanente Medical Group’s Franklin and Rock Creek Medical Offices – and who he is as a doctor.

“I’m not shy about who I am. I talk to my patients about my husband, tell them stories about my childhood, and try to make them laugh – and I do this while I’m examining the patient. Not just their skin, either. My background has made me incredibly intuitive and able to read people really well. So, yeah, you’re checking out the problem area, but you’re also reading their body language, assessing their relationship with their parents and, really, just trying to get a more complete picture of what’s going on.”

Following His Paternal Instincts

As a fourth year medical student, Dr. Arbuckle struggled with what area he wanted to go into. Growing up with a parent who had her own mental health issues, he had a personal interest in psychiatry, but a natural paternal instinct drew him toward the field of pediatrics.

“I’ll never forget the moment I knew pediatrics was for me. I was doing my pediatric extern at Bethesda Naval Hospital and I was sitting in a lecture being given by the Department Chairman. As he was giving his lecture, a paper airplane flew in front of him from across the room and he didn’t even bat an eye – just kept right on with his lecture. I just remember thinking, my gosh, these are the people I need to hang out with for the rest of my life.”

Finding His Niche in Dermatology

After graduating from the Uniformed Services University of Medicine and finishing his residency at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Dr. Arbuckle served 16 years as a Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Public Health Services. On track to become admiral and enter an administrative role, he knew this wasn’t the direction he wanted to take his career and made the tough decision to leave active duty for a residency and fellowship in pediatric dermatology with the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

“I saw patients in a pediatric dermatology clinic a few times a month, and fell in love with it. Dermatology is very visual. I loved the fact that I can make a diagnosis just looking at the patient, and that I could do that and work with children was even better. Plus, there’s a real need for it."

On top of being your largest organ, skin is what others see first and can leave a lasting impression – for better or for worse. For Dr. Arbuckle, diagnosing and treating even the most basic of skin conditions in children can have a lifelong impact.

“The sad fact is that dermatology has never been a priority in medical training. Even though there’s very good evidence that as many as a third of patients are coming into their primary care provider with a dermatologic complaint, most residency programs only offer dermatology as a one-month elective rotation. It’s an important area of medicine that, unless you have a real passion for it, goes unpursued.”

Listening, Helping and Being Human

Whether civilian or military; urban or suburban; East Coast, West Coast, or anywhere in between, Dr. Arbuckle has found that, at the end of the day, patients only want two things: They want to feel like they’ve been heard and they want help.

“Help goes a long way. But help doesn’t always mean fixing their problems – because many times in medicine that’s just not possible. A lot of times helping is just listening, showing empathy, being honest and being human. I’m not afraid to tell my patients when I don’t know what’s going on and I’m not afraid to admit when I make a mistake. But when I am able to talk to a patient and their family, walk them through what’s going on and offer a treatment option – just seeing the instantaneous relief and hope that comes over them is what keeps me doing what I do.”

To learn more about why Dr. Arbuckle enjoys working for CPMG, click here.

To learn more about working for CPMG, click here