Several weeks ago, I put on my arms what I thought was lotion. Apparently it was some kind of demonic soap that made my arms break out in a rash. As I looked at my arms, not only did they feel itchy, but I felt embarrassed. I didn’t want anybody to see my skin, and so I hid it for a week with long sleeves.
Dermatologist Matthew Mahlberg of Colorado Dermatology sees skin conditions everyday: rashes, acne, warts, cancer, and psoriasis. But he also sees patients with the same feeling of embarrassment I felt. In this interview, Dr. Mahlberg speaks about his work as a dermatologist, his Christian faith, and what it means to bring about healing that is more than skin deep.
Jeff Haanen: You are a dermatologist. Tell me what a dermatologist does every day.
Matt Mahlberg: Sure. I’m a dermatologist and a dermatological surgeon, which means that I treat all conditions of the skin – whether it’s acne, warts, psoriasis, or skin cancer. And I have a unique level of training regarding the specialized treatment of skin cancer and high risk skin cancers. There are facial skin cancers or more advanced tumors that require the surgical removal and then reconstructive surgery afterwards.
JH: You are starting a new practice in the Denver Tech Center. What’s the single biggest challenge of starting a new practice?
MM: It’s clarifying what is important to you – the vision and values you have for what you want your practice to look like and how you want to continue nurturing those values as you practice.
One of the most challenging things and the most rewarding in this endeavor is that you have the privilege of trying to define those values in the way that you feel will be best for your organizational culture and patients.
JH: As a person of Christian faith, what kind of values do you think are really core to your new practice?
MM: Well, first it’s healing people. And I think in particular to dermatology, I value restoring people.
Dermatology is unique in that we have a lot of patients with very visual conditions that they can see, and that can lead to them having embarrassment or feeling socially ostracized because of disfiguring scars or large skin cancer. So in addition to healing them from a health perspective, you are restoring them in terms of who they see when they look in the mirror.
I think restoration is a big one but I also think of personalized care. In the world of big organizations in health care, we want to really bring the excellence of big organizations and centers of influence to a very personalized delivery in a small private practice.
JH: What are the biggest areas of “Genesis 3” brokenness that you see in the field of dermatology?
MM: When I see patients, many have skin cancer in the face. When you have this irregular growth or tumor on the face, I think we see ourselves through the reflection we see in the mirror.
One of the unique challenges of brokenness is taking a patient who comes in with skin cancer, removing that skin cancer – which usually creates a wound – and then doing the surgical reconstruction to rebuild them so that when they look in the mirror they get to see themselves and not the scars that are left behind from surgery. And that’s a really rewarding part of it.
JH: A part of Christian faith is this hope that we have in the new heaven and earth – that Christ will come judge the world and restore all things. As we live in that resurrection hope today, what is your own hope for your practice and for your patients? What does that really look like?
MM: As a professional and as a Christian, I believe that whatever work we’re doing, we can do it in the most excellent way, and that in itself is an offering to God. If we can live out our lives in God’s Kingdom in whatever vocation we have, we’re essentially acting out God’s command to love and honor him and love our neighbors.
My hope and desire is for our practice to live that out in a way that allows us to provide exceptional care in a way that honors our patients and helps to restore them to health. In the way we treat patients, we just want to honor God with every interaction.
Jeff Haanen is a writer and entrepreneur. He founded Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a community of conveners, teachers and learners offering experiences and educational resources on the gospel, work, and community renewal. He is the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life and an upcoming two-book series on spiritual formation, vocation, and the working class for Intervarsity Press. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Denver and attends Wellspring Church in Englewood, Colorado.