Dermatologist Makes Most of Life’s Unexpected Gems

Question: What do the Minnesota Twins, Vikings and Wild have in common? Answer: Aside from hailing from the twin-cities — Minneapolis and St. Paul — they all share the same team physician: Charles Crutchfield III, MD.

The principal of Crutchfield Dermatology, considered the premier medical and cosmetic dermatology clinic in the twin cities, is a sports enthusiast—particularly baseball, and has vivid childhood memories.

“When I was a small child, this was back in 1965, my grandfather was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis,” Crutchfield recalls. “And the Minnesota Twins went to the World Series that year, but because of [my grandfather’s] MS, he was not very mobile. And at the time color TVs were a big deal. I remember my father went out and bought a color TV so we as a family could watch the World Series with my grandfather. Unfortunately, the Twins lost, but it was still fun. And in fact some of the players who were on the team in ’65 are now my patients, which is really fun.”

And “fun” is the best word to describe Crutchfield’s affinity for life and medicine.

It’s in the blood
Crutchfield began his medical career early — very early, he says. His parents were physicians; his father still is. And his mother became pregnant with him during her first year in medical school.

“She likes to joke around with people and tell them that I’ve been through medical school twice,” Crutchfield laughs. “So it has been medicine ever since I was a little kid.”

As for dermatology, Crutchfield — who is also a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, as well as a mentor in the University of Minnesota’s Future Doctors of America Program — calls himself a visual person with a photographic memory for images, not for words.

“I can read something and two paragraphs later forget what I’ve read,” he says. “But for images, I’m good at that. I think that’s what kind of got me into dermatology. I still do surgical procedures, laser procedures. I still use the microscope every day to look at different specimens. And I see children, I see geriatrics, I see a broad spectrum of patients. I think all those things combined made dermatology the field for me.”

A unique practice
Crutchfield opened his own practice in 2002. He knew that he wanted to have a support staff that really supported him, and he’s been true to his word. His practice features one nurse per exam room, not one nurse per physician.

He hit the ground running a decade ago, seeing 48 patients the day he opened his practice doors, and has built Crutchfield Dermatology into a 45,000-patient practice that has logged more than a quarter of a million patient visits in its first 10 years.

“The secret is to design a system to practice medicine the way that it really should be practiced, where you have the physician as the leader of the team, not an administrator telling the physician what to do,” Crutchfield explains. “And then you surround the physician with superb support staff. And I’ve got fantastic staff.”

Crutchfield usually runs anywhere from eight to 10 exam rooms, with 16 nursing staff who are either in the rooms, working on notes, doing triage or working in the lab. When he walks from room to room to see patients, his staff gives him a presentation very similar to a resident’s presentation.

“I do all the examinations, I do the diagnosing,” Crutchfield says. “If I can’t diagnose, I come up with a plan to get the right diagnosis. And I come up with the treatment plan. And once I develop that, then my staff takes that and they help me implement it. They write prescriptions as I’ve instructed, they act as scribes for me for charting. They also review all the materials with the patients and do a great job of educating the patient. I believe this is the way medicine should be practiced.”

Impacting the community
Away from his practice, Crutchfield serves as a Hero Benefactor for a local reading center, stepping up to the plate to assist when available scholarship funds are insufficient to cover the number of hopeful students.

“That’s because I’m dyslexic,” Crutchfield acknowledges. “They helped me when I was in college. I had a teacher who told me, ‘Dyslexia is not going to hold you back.’ And I realized that if I were ever in a position to help other people, I would do so. It’s so important to give back.”

And the giving continues. For more than a dozen years now Crutchfield has been working with a program called Play it Safe When It Comes to the Sun, which is run through the American Academy of Dermatology in Major League Baseball. One day a year a dermatologist goes into major league locker rooms to screen players and their families.

“It’s a really big campaign to let kids know to play it safe in the sun,” he says.

That activity has borne fruit. Crutchfield was approached about co-authoring a children’s book on being sun-smart. Titled Little Charles Hits a Home Run, the book is named after his son, and the home run aspect refers to getting smarter about sun protection. The book, which was recently released in prototype, is currently in large-scale production.

“I can’t even say how nice it is [to be a published author], because it was something that came out of nowhere,” Crutchfield says. “One of life’s little unexpected gems.”

I’m loving it
Crutchfield says that he truly looks forward to going to work every day, and reminds himself daily how fortunate he is to be in a position where he has the knowledge and ability to help people.

“I know that dermatology is not cardiology or oncology, but when you have a skin problem, you’re itching, you can’t sleep, or you’re embarrassed about the way you look — it’s a problem,” Crutchfield says. “I’ve had great teachers and training in the past. I’m just fortunate that I can really make a difference for people.”