The Good Doctors: Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan
Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan
Dermatologist, Clifton Hill Dermatology, Melbourne
“I got to experience first-hand what my patients keep telling me: that they don’t want to be taking oral medication for prolonged periods of time, and that you can get a product that treats and cures acne.” We caught up with Dr Shyamalar Guntheesan to talk dermatology and the art of medicine, patient wins—and the one person who continues to inspire her every day.
What drew you to dermatology?
“I always felt it was the last frontier in medicine where an astute practitioner could diagnose elusive rashes, pick out evasive skin cancers or simply deduce the health, age and luminosity of one’s skin without running a single test! I have always been drawn to the complexity and beauty of art; dermatology with all its colours, contours and conundrums complements this perfectly. As a skin, hair and nail specialist, the breadth of knowledge and variety of conditions was a challenge I wanted to conquer.”
What inspires you in this industry?
“The mentorship, collegiality and the drive to give our patients the best care. Whether we engage in scientific research or clinical meetings to source a collective opinion on difficult cases, the patient-centric approach in our field prevails.”
What’s been your most significant career highlight or your proudest moment?
“That’s a hard one. Whilst I am proud of academic accolades such as winning the Adrian Johnson Memorial Prize for the Best Research by a Dermatology College trainee or being honoured with a Florence Bequest for a Dermatology Fellowship at Columbia University, somehow, these do not measure up to the many patient wins. There was this gorgeous six-year-old girl with chronic vulval itch for three years. She was sleep deprived and not thriving, mislabelled as OCD and anxious when she came to see me after having seen several doctors and psychologists. Once her diagnosis and treatment of Lichen Sclerosus was made, she was an entirely different, vibrant, engaging child. That had a profound effect on her parents and me.”
What do you love most about being a dermatologist?
“My patients! The piecing together of clues; the marriage of the patient’s history and signs to come up with the diagnosis, and then real art of medicine, where the doctor and the patient engage in the therapeutic outcome. I guess the overall patient journey.”
What does confidence mean to you?
“I think confidence is quiet. It’s an intrinsic sense of peace and self-regard. It’s about humility, freely asking for help and owning one’s mistakes.”
Do you have a role model?
“Yes, and that would have to be my dad. A true feminist, a wonderful father and an empathetic, curious human, he inspires his three daughters every day.”
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt?
“Listen! Listen, read non-verbal cues and be open before any judgement is made.”
And any words to live by?
“I strongly resonate with the wise words of Robert Brault: ‘Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.’”
Interview by Hélène Pappas