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University of Washington School of Medicine HuBio 567: The Skin







Course Overview

The main purpose of The Skin is to teach you about the structure and function of the skin - the scientific foundation of the specialty of dermatology. With the exception of detecting skin cancer, especially melanoma, the primary intention of this course is not to teach you how to recognize and treat skin disease. That you can do in our fourth year Dermatology clerkship.

The Skin proceeds in a fairly logical fashion through various anatomic and conceptual areas that teach you a different facet or theme of cutaneous biology. There is some calculated overlap between these themes. Each theme explains how the skin functions normally. Whenever possible, we attempt to take you to the molecular mechanisms known about these themes. Since in medicine we are concerned with health and disease, you also learn about what happens when things go wrong. The hidden beauty of many skin diseases is the lessons they teach us about normal function. You will see lots of illustrative skin diseases, both live and in pictures, during this course.

We teach the lessons of this course in several different ways. One way is through didactic lectures given by various faculty members (see Schedule). Though this may not be the best way to transfer knowledge, for a class of more than 170 of you, it is efficient. A second method is in small groups (15-20 students with an instructor). This method is inherently interactive, and usually fun for both students and instructors. A third method is individual learning via Web sites specifically designed for this course. Fourth, you will see patients living with skin disease during a patient demonstration on a Saturday morning (download session information [13K PDF]) during the course to give you a chance to interact live in very small groups with patients. Fifth, you will learn from an exam on the last day of the course: you will learn from reviewing course concepts in preparation for this, and most of you will learn from the exam itself. Finally, for those who qualify and desire to do so, writing an honors paper for this course is another opportunity to learn.


Course Objectives

Beyond striving to help you understand the biology of the skin, this course also gives you a solid foundation from which to build your understanding of the mechanisms of skin diseases. In conjunction with your ICM-II course, you spend a number of hours: 1) learning and using the descriptive language of dermatology, 2) learning how to systematically examine the skin, and 3) learning to describe and recognize skin cancers, especially melanoma. Last, the Saturday morning patient session gives you an unforgettable experience to appreciate the human suffering that comes with many skin diseases and to appreciate the scope of diseases that are seen by dermatologists. As you will see, dermatology is much more than skin deep.


Course Grading

Your grade in this course is dependent on your performance on the exam given on the last Monday of the course. The questions for this exam are taken directly from the course syllabus, material presented in the lectures, and the two Web sites The Language of Dermatology and Malignant Melanoma.

You are guaranteed a passing grade if you score at least 70% on the exam. Because the exam is different each year, we have the discretion to make the passing percentage less than 70%.

Virtually everyone will pass this course if they pay attention to the lectures, read the syllabus material, and are attentive in the small groups and to the Web sites. Though your presence at lectures is ultimately up to you, those who attend have a distinct advantage in scoring well on this exam. Your attendance in the small groups and patient demonstration is likewise strongly encouraged, as these sessions are designed specifically to help you become better doctors. Your attendance at the final exam, of course, barring emergency, is required.

Earning honors in The Skin requires a score of 90% or greater on the final exam and completion of an original, scholarly analysis on a topic of your choice relevant to skin biology. Roy Colven ( needs to approve your topic before you begin work on the paper. Further details on honors papers are provided in the syllabus.



This year we have revised the syllabus for The Skin. The chapters are written primarily by the lecturers and will reinforce and supplement each lecturer's presented material. Given the visual nature of skin diseases, however, the syllabus cannot replace the lecture, where images will help you place the biological principles in clinical context.

Here is a suggestion on how to make this written material best work to your advantage: Prior to lecture, read the material thoroughly, making question marks where it seems less than clear to you. Listen carefully during the lecture to enhance your knowledge of what you already understand and to see if the question-marked material is clarified. If not, raise your hand and ask. Undoubtedly, many of your classmates will have the same question, and the others will be thankful you asked it. Then that night reread the material to further cement your understanding. This way preparation for the exam need not involve cramming, as the material should be solidly in place.

There also are the electronic (Web-based) resources mentioned above; follow the Resources button on the left. We expect you to visit the Language of Dermatology and Malignant Melanoma Web sites. A third Web site on Developmental Biology of the Skin is available for your perusal but is not required material for the course and you will not be tested on this.

No textbook is required for the course, but one is recommended: Color Atlas and Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, et al, 5th ed., 2005, price: approx. $75 (purchase by August 31 – Medical Branch only – to receive a 10% discount), available in the University Book Store Medical Branch in the South Campus Center. This book, besides being reasonably inexpensive, has lots of high quality clinical photographs to enhance your developing visual recognition skills. You also may find it useful in the future (3rd and 4th years, residency, and beyond).


If you have questions or concerns regarding the organization, mechanics, or logistics of this course, contact Dr. Colven before or after lectures or small group sessions, or by e-mail. Telephone communication is less reliable. In addition, a Skin course focus group will begin meeting halfway through the course. You can impact your experience in this course by communicating with those classmates assigned to this focus group.

For individual lecture questions, ask the speaker during the lecture; the discussion usually is helpful for all. Alternatively, you can contact the speaker via e-mail if your question comes to you afterwards. See our faculty roster.


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Last updated: August 2008