UIHC doctor celebrated for work in diversity, ethnic skin care

UIHC’s Nkanyezi Ferguson will travel to Washington to accept the National Minority Quality Forums 40 Under 40 Leaders in Minority Health Award.


Contributed/UI Carver College of Medicine

Kinsey Phipps, News Reporter

Until she was 17, Nkanyezi Ferguson lived in Zimbabwe with her family. She saw firsthand the effects of living in a country with a lack of access to health care, and it inspired her to go into medicine.

Now, Ferguson is a University of Iowa dermatologist and surgeon, specializing in ethnic skin care. Her work has led to heading the diversity committee in the UI Hospitals & Clinics Dermatology Department and open Iowa’s first Ethnic Skin Care Clinic.

In April, Ferguson will travel to Washington to receive the National Minority Quality Forums 40 Under 40 Leaders in Minority Health Award.

“[Ferguson] is a rising star in our specialty, and she is committed to use this platform to encourage diversity in our workforce and access to care for the underserved,” UI dermatology Professor Janet Fairley said in an email to The Daily Iowan.

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Ferguson received an undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Missouri-Columbia and continued to medical school. In medical school, she was placed on a chance rotation in dermatology and fell in love, she said.

“I was able to do a rotation in South Africa and see the devastating effects of advanced dermatology issues that I believe are under recognized in Third World countries,” Ferguson said. “There are bigger issues that a lot of times are not addressed until they are very severe.”

When she arrived at the UI in 2016, she immediately got to work developing the Ethnic Skin Care Clinic. Iowa isn’t so diverse as most states, she said, but the need for specialized care is there.

“Within dermatology, there is a clinical niche focusing on skin of color,” Ferguson said. “Because we are in a less diverse state, and we train residents who will practice all over, it’s important to train to take care of different skins of color.”

People of color have unique skin-care needs, she said. Common conditions in darker skin can lead to dark or post-inflammatory marks, so it’s important to take that into consideration when thinking about approaches to treatment, she said. There are also unique hair disorders and hair-care practices to be aware of.

“Building the clinic in a state that’s less diverse takes time and takes a lot of reaching out to let patients and providers know that the clinic is here,” Ferguson said. “I have a passion and interest in caring for skin of color. Having conversations and giving recommendations in a meaningful and effective way every day in our practice with our education and teaching is such a big mission.”

Out of all residency specialties, dermatology is the second-least diverse, Ferguson said, so there has been a large push to increase diversity in the specialty. She is especially passionate about this, being a woman of color herself.

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Each UIHC department has a diversity committee. Leading the dermatology diversity committee is perfect for Ferguson, said Clinical Professor Peter Daniolos, the head of the diversity committee in the Psychiatry Department.

“Each department has a different way of doing [the diversity committee],” Daniolos said. “The department that wins here by far is dermatology; it is the most vibrant.”

Ferguson hopes that one day there will be no need for an ethnic skin-care clinic, because the state will be more diverse with a more well-rounded education about the dermatological needs for people of color, she said. But she truly loves what she does.

“Often, skin issues can have psychological effects on people, and seeing an increase in confidence after treatment is very rewarding,” Ferguson said. “I love coming to work, I love my patients, I love teaching. It’s the satisfaction of helping people with their skin issues.”

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