A person wearing sunglasses outdoors
By J. Tucker and M. W. Sequeira

Still Filling in the Gaps

UNM Dermatology Events to Help Rural New Mexicans Prevent Skin Cancer

Whether it’s enjoying some open space or working under a wide blue sky, New Mexicans often find their way outside.

With all that the Land of Enchantment has to offer, skin cancer isn’t on the top on anyone’s list. But abundant sunshine and a dearth of dermatologists in the state pose a challenge for detecting and treating the various forms of skin cancer.

“It’s a huge problem,” says John Durkin, MD, MBA, an assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at The University of New Mexico. “We did a study in 2019 to gauge how many dermatologists were in the state, and we found 33 who were board-certified and practicing for a population of about 2 million people.” Studies reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association recommend at least double that number to provide good access to care.



Skin Cancer Screening Event

Saturday, November 12
10 am to 12 pm

Pecos Valley Medical Office Building
2420 W. Pierce Street
Suite 100
Carlsbad, NM 88220

No appointment needed.

Everyone arriving during event hours will be seen.

Durkin added that the majority of those 33 doctors are based in New Mexico’s metropolitan areas. Most practice in Albuquerque, with some in Santa Fe and Las Cruces. Durkin himself practices at the UNM Medical Arts building and at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center.

New Mexico’s incidence of melanoma, the most serious and potentially deadly of skin cancers, is actually slightly lower than the national average, Durkin says. The lower rate might be due to New Mexico’s majority minority population. New Mexico has more people with darker skin types who, on average, tend to experience less incidence of melanoma.

But skin color doesn’t make them immune to skin cancer.

Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are the far more common types of skin cancers found in New Mexico, and they can affect anyone. Both types are thought to be related to lifetime sun exposure.

“It’s one of the gaps in education we see,” Durkin says. “People with darker skin types believe they’re not going to get skin cancer.”

Before the pandemic, the UNM Department of Dermatology and the UNM Cancer Center worked together to fill the gaps in access and education by hosting skin cancer screening events throughout the state. With the recent changes in indoor masking requirements, the events have now resumed.

The first of several new events was held in Albuquerque on Saturday, May 7, and another was held in Gallup on Saturday, August 6. The next event will be held in Carlsbad on Saturday, November 12.

Durkin hopes that people in rural areas of the state will take advantage of the shorter drive to the events. Screenings will be conducted on a first come, first served basis; no appointments are necessary. UNM medical students will assist people at the events and provide in-depth skin cancer education to everyone who attends.

The events are designed to provide skin screenings only. People can come to have a certain spot checked, and gowns will be available for those who want larger regions of their body examined. Durkin says no procedures will be performed at these events. Instead, people will be given a report detailing their exam findings and options for follow-up appointments with providers in the state, including those at the UNM Cancer Center and other locations.

Durkin says the UNM Department of Dermatology is taking additional steps to fill the void of dermatologists, including introducing medical students to knowledge about skin cancer, educating primary care trainees and other providers, and leading a well-respected dermatology residency program to train future specialists.

The department’s goal, Durkin says, is to train new doctors and help them see the value of staying in New Mexico, serving the people here, and having more confidence in their ability to recognize and treat skin cancer.


About John Durkin, MD, MBA, FAAD

John Durkin, MD, MBA, FAAD, joined the UNM Department of Dermatology in July 2018 as an assistant professor. He received his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh and completed his residency at Drexel University, where he served as chief resident. His  areas of clinical interest include digital imaging and diagnostic techniques, such as dermoscopy, optical coherence tomography and reflective confocal microscopy. He is also interested in pigmented lesions (moles) and melanoma, hereditary cancer syndromes, and noninvasive treatment of skin cancer. In addition, Durkin also provides aesthetic services such as Botox, peels, fillers, laser treatments and serves as director of Undergraduate Medical Education for rotating medical students.

About the Carlsbad Skin Cancer Screening Event

The skin cancer screening event will take place Saturday, November 12, from 10 am to 12 pm, at the Pecos Valley Medical Office Building, 2420 W. Pierce Street Suite 100, Carlsbad, NM 88220. No appointment is needed, and everyone arriving during event hours will be seen. This free screening event is sponsored by the Ryan F. Daniell Memorial Fund, Shannon J. Shaw Memorial Cancer Fund, UNM Department of Dermatology, UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center and American Academy of Dermatology. Please call 505-272-6222 for more information.

UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center

The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in a 500-mile radius.

Its more than 120 board-certified oncology specialty physicians include cancer surgeons in every specialty (abdominal, thoracic, bone and soft tissue, neurosurgery, genitourinary, gynecology, and head and neck cancers), adult and pediatric hematologists/medical oncologists, gynecologic oncologists, and radiation oncologists. They, along with more than 600 other cancer healthcare professionals (nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, navigators, psychologists and social workers), provide treatment to 65% of New Mexico's cancer patients from all across the state and partner with community health systems statewide to provide cancer care closer to home. They treated approximately 14,000 patients in about 100,000 ambulatory clinic visits in addition to in-patient hospitalizations at UNM Hospital.

A total of nearly 400 patients participated in cancer clinical trials testing new cancer treatments that include tests of novel cancer prevention strategies and cancer genome sequencing.

The more than 100 cancer research scientists affiliated with the UNMCCC were awarded $35.7 million in federal and private grants and contracts for cancer research projects. Since 2015, they have published nearly 1000 manuscripts, and promoting economic development, they filed 136 new patents and launched 10 new biotechnology start-up companies.

Finally, the physicians, scientists and staff have provided education and training experiences to more than 500 high school, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral fellowship students in cancer research and cancer health care delivery.

Categories: Comprehensive Cancer Center, Education, School of Medicine, Top Stories