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Since its inception in 1905, the Carver College of Medicine Department of Dermatology has upheld an impressive standard of research, scholarship, and patient care.

The University of Iowa hired Dr. John B. Kessler as its first dermatology physician and lecturer in 1899, six years before the department was officially formed. By 1905, the Department of Dermatology and Syphilology occupied a small section of the University of Iowa’s East Hall, now Seashore Hall. Dr. Kessler served as head of the department and practiced dermatology there until his retirement in 1934.

In 1910, Dr. Kessler’s son, Dr. James Kessler, joined the department and in 1934, succeeded his father as acting head of Dermatology and Syphilology. By that time, the department had moved to five small rooms on the second floor of the General Hospital on the west side of the Iowa River, its home since 1929.

In 1936, Dr. Ruben Nomland, a fellow at the Mayo Clinic and Rush Medical College, became the chair of the department and made major contributions to the study of many dermatologic disorders and diseases as an educator, practitioner, and researcher.

The department continued to grow under Dr. Nomland’s leadership and with the medical advancements of the twentieth century. With the development of penicillin, infections rates of syphilis drastically decreased, prompting the department to shorten its name in 1979 to simply the Department of Dermatology.

Dr. Robert Gibson Carney, Sr., a resident under Dr. Nomland, became the department head in 1961. By that time, the department had moved twice in response to overcapacity concerns, once in 1950 and again in 1976.

In 1976, Yale graduate Dr. John Strauss ascended to Head of Dermatology, bringing a vigorous research component to the department. Authoring more than 275 articles, many regarding sebaceous gland biology and the pathophysiology of acne and its therapy, Dr. Strauss was instrumental in the introduction of retinoids to the therapeutic armamentarium of medicine. His impressive legacy includes his appointment as president of the 18th World Congress of Dermatology in 1992 and a member of both the International Committee for Dermatology, on which he served fifteen years, and the American Association of Professors.

Today, Dr. Janet A. Fairley is the John S. Strauss Professor and Head of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Iowa. Dr. Fairley completed medical school, residency training, and a research fellowship at the University of Michigan. Her subjects of study include autoimmune skin diseases, complex medical dermatology, and skin and cutaneous manifestations of systemic illness. An author of more than 140 articles and book chapters, an honorary member of the prestigious Sociẻtẻ Franҫaise de Dermatologie, and the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the Medical Dermatology Society, Dr. Fairley continues to move the department forward in research and service.

Under Dr. Fairley’s leadership, the Department of Dermatology found its permanent home in Pomerantz Family Pavilion in 2007. This space includes over 20 clinic rooms, nine procedure rooms, resident, faculty, and nursing workspaces, and a phototherapy unit.

There are now sixteen residents and two fellows working with twelve full-time MD and one PhD faculty. Three faculty members are fellowship-trained dermatopathologists, and two are fellowship-trained Mohs surgeons.

University of Iowa Department of Dermatology has a history of dedicated leadership, excellent patient care, and innovative research which continues today. We are grateful to the professors, students, residents, and countless members of faculty and staff who continue to build this legacy of incredible commitment, outstanding care, and leading scholarship.

Names of Department Heads 

Name From To
Kessler, John B 1913 1934
Nomland, Ruben 1936 1960
Carney, Robert 1961 1976
Strauss, John 1978 1998
Sontheimer, Richard 1998 2005
Fairley, Janet 2007 2023
Jabbari, Ali 2023 Present