History of the Georgia Society of Dermatology and Dermalogic Surgery

Authored by founding member Hiram Sturm, M.D., June 8, 2003
Dr. Reuben M. Reifler of Macon, the real father of our state society, last reviewed the history of our Society at our 1980 annual meeting, which was held May 1 – 4 at Callaway Gardens with Dr. Ski Smith serving as President that year. In this report Dr. Reifler, better known as Rem, referred to organizational discussions held in 1955, 1956 and 1957, with formal establishment of the Society in May 1958. As the newest dermatological arrival in Georgia in 1957, I attended this 1958 meeting.

Prior to the existence of the Georgia Society of Dermatologists (GSD), it was the custom of many of the dermatologists in Georgia to attend the annual meeting of the state medical society, the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG). MAG rotated the meeting site on an annual basis, including the cities of Atlanta, Albany, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, and Savannah. I remember one such meeting in Brunswick that Marv Engel hosted. Frequently, one of the dermatologists would present papers for the MAG scientific program. So for several years there was an informal meeting of the dermatologists in Georgia before the official startup. In approximately 1955 and 1956, there were some organizational discussions of an informal nature, and I first attended the meeting in 1958.

In 1958, there were about twenty dermatologists in Georgia with around ten dermatologists from the Atlanta area. I was the new kid on the block, having left my residency and short term of practice in New York City to come back home to the South. When I came in 1957, there had been no new dermatologist in the Atlanta area in the previous five years. Clayton Wood was in Albany, with Harvey Cabiness in Athens, James Bazemore and Conrad Smith in Augusta, Dave Burman and Clayton Taylor in Columbus, Virgen Womack in LaGrange practicing both dermatology and allergy, and Richard and Josh Ewing in Savannah. Rem Reifler was in Macon. Vince Cericeoni and Same Rosen were also in practice at that time. Sam Rosen was referenced in “Andrews’ Text on Dermatology” several times. He was a great photographer and several of the clinical illustrations in Andrews’ book were credited to Sam Rosen. He was first a pharmacist who subsequently did dermatology. Charlie Adams and Herbert Steed Alden were clinical professors at Emory. At that time, there was no program of dermatology at Emory, but there were two dermatology clinics each week as well as a clinic at Grady Hospital where the Atlanta dermatologists donated their time. There was William Dobys, Bill Dobys’ father, and Howard and High Hailey of Hailey Hailey fame who maintained separate clinical practices. Dave Harron, who had done his training in Philadelphia, was also in Atlanta. Harold Evans had trained in New York. Joe Rankin was a Columbia Presbyterian man. Phil Nippert was in Atlanta, and was a great sailor and storyteller. So this was Georgia dermatology in 1958.

The annual meeting in 1958 was held in Macon, at the home of Dr. Rem Reifler and his wife Tillie. Dr. Reifler wrote letters to all the dermatologists in the state, approximately twenty at the time, and invited them to attend a luncheon, accompanied by their wives at the Reifler home at the conclusion of the MAG meeting on a Sunday morning. After the delighted luncheon attended by eleven dermatologists, Dr. Reifler suggested that we retire to the living room for a business meeting. During the course of the meeting, Dr. Reifler recommended that in the interest of maintaining collegiality, family social contacts, professional business relationships and an ongoing professional scientific discourse that the dermatologists of Georgia band together as a group to meet at the time of the annual MAG meeting. Thus the organization of the Georgia Society of Dermatologists occurred in 1958 at the Reifler home in Macon, Georgia, on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Rem Reifler graciously agreed to serve as secretary of the newly formed Society, a position he ably served for 15 years. It was decided that the presiding officer would be selected, as a general rule, from the city hosting the next medical association meeting. The host city would thus provide the society a president knowledgeable about the community and its facilities, thereby enabling us to interact more favorably both scientifically and socially.

Rem Reifler served as volunteer secretary of the GSD for fifteen years and was basically the glue that held the Society together. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote March 5, 1983 to the GSD in reference to the annual lectureship for Reuben M. Reifler, MD and the annual dues.

"I am unable to fined the satisfactory words to express my jubilant and complimentary feelings in knowing that the members voted me an annual lecture and knowing that whoever is selected will do justice for the occasion. to help in this addition to the annual program and meeting, I am enclosing a check for $1000.00 to help in defraying the expenses. Any monies that may be left over should be carried over to the following years." (Members of the Society at the time had contributed various amounts - $50, $100 and some $200 – to establish this lectureship.) "I sincerely thank you for this honor. Also enclosed is a check for the 1983 dues. With the effort the officers devote to put on an educational and a social program, I urge more members attend this and all annual meetings. In the past some of the meetings have been poorly attended and have been embarrassing to the officers who have to apologize and/or make excuses to our guest speakers for the poor, that is, sparse attendance. I urge all members to make an arrangement to attend this once a year meeting to help keep the Society active with our influence in dermatology locally, nationally and internationally. Wishing you all the best, a well attended meeting and fellowship. Forever yours, Rem Reifler. P.S. As of this time, I will not be able to attend the Annual Meeting and regret same." He was dying of cancer.

After several years of successful meetings, with an ever-expanding statewide dermatologic population and with the introduction of live clinical case presentations on Sunday morning, it became apparent that the annual meeting in association with MAG was not entirely satisfactory. We were somewhat like the tail being wagged by the dog. Hotel and meeting rooms were difficult to acquire, in competition with the large statewide meeting attendees. In addition, we began to doubt the possible public relation, reciprocal value of our interaction with our colleagues in general medicine and surgery. Thus in the early 1980’s, our society elected to meet independently of MAG.

Our new independence allowed us to pick interesting meeting sites such as Callaway Gardens, Lake Lanier Island Resort, Amelia Island and similar venues. By this time, both Emory University and the Medical College of Georgia had active Dermatologic residency programs, and our attempt to make the annual meeting affordable for both practitioners, as well as residents in dermatology and their families. For a few years, this formula seemed to work. For whatever reason, even with financial support for our residents in training who presented their research reports and scientific papers at our annual meting, the resident participation diminished.

During this period of time, one of our meetings was held at The Cloister on Sea Island. The attending members were so pleased with the luxurious accommodations and the meeting rooms in the convention facility that for the past twenty years or so, the society has reserved this meeting facility for the first or second weekend in June. Due to active encouragement by the Medical College of Georgia and Emory Departments of Dermatology, our dermatologic residents have once again become meaningful participants in our scientific program.

The number of Georgia dermatologists has risen from twenty in number in the year of our organizing in 1958 to two hundred forty in the year 2003. Our goals (our mission statement) some 45 years later should be essentially unchanged: We hope to maintain collegiality with our dermatologic colleagues; we should encourage social interaction with the individual dermatologist and his family; and the annual meeting should serve as the opportune venue for discussion of professional business matters, as well as our ongoing superb scientific dermatologic presentations by our residents, our members and our invited guest speakers.

The Georgia Society of Dermatologists has had a long and successful history. However, I am concerned. There are now two hundred forty dermatologists in the state of Georgia; not all of them are members of the GSD and not all of our members regularly attend our annual meeting. As one of the founding members of this wonderful Society, I strongly urge our leadership to create a proactive committee to address this shortfall. We should, and we must, find a way to make our meetings ever more satisfying scientifically so that no dermatologist in our state will fail to attend, while we at the same time strive to make our meeting more affordable.


pictured left to right, Dr. Hirum Sturm, Tillie Reifler, Dr. Rem Reifler, Ruth Sturm