The most remarkable thing about William “Dr. B” Brown – a dermatologist who finished his practice with Anne Arundel Dermatology and retired in 2014 after practicing for over 30 years in Glen Burnie, MD – isn’t that he practiced from a wheelchair, battling the daily challenges and frustrations of multiple sclerosis, for over 20 of those years.
Nor is it that he and his wife, Jan, treated more than 50,000 patients throughout his career.
No – what’s truly remarkable is the upbeat attitude and unquestionable dedication and passion that Dr. B brought to his practice, and his patients, every day.
Born and raised in Morningside, MD, Dr. B decided to pursue medicine after a very impactful summer as a camp counselor in Casco, Maine. It was then that the camp doctor intrigued him with his broad knowledge of biology and science. He went on to major in biology at Duke University and pursue his medical career.
In his third year of studies, Dr. B chose Dermatology as his focus. Also in his third year, his neurology professor, Dr. Tom Price, diagnosed him with multiple sclerosis. Dr. Price told Bill that the diagnosis did not have to stop him from helping people – as long as he didn’t let it! – and turned him onto dermatology research and publications.
It was the perfect fit. Growing up with a love for Sherlock Holmes and how his keen observations of both people and their environment led to each mystery’s solution, Dr. B recognized this acute skill in himself – a skill that Jan refers to as “a heightened appreciation for aspects that other people do not see” – and decided to pursue one of the few professions in which his deductive reasoning – and not his MS – could shine.
And shine it did.
From the case of the Corona-drinking lawn mower – a local man came in with a recurring rash that Dr. B immediately deduced was caused by the interaction of lime juice and prolonged exposure to sunlight – to that of the always-itchy celery-stocking stevedore, Dr. B’s Holmesian observations allowed him to retire with, according to Jan – and Dr. B himself – “a great diagnostic track record.”
But Dr. B’s status as a diagnostician wasn’t all that made him an amazing dermatologist.
Dr. Jan, who says her “overarching goal was to remove the burden of MS so that Dr. B could see and help as many individuals as possible,” believes that Dr. B’s bedside manner was at least as important to his success as his mental abilities.
Whether dealing with adults or kids, Dr. B’s M.O. with each of the 50,000+ patients who entered his exam rooms was to put them at ease as quickly as possible; speak to them in layman’s terms and use the “C” word – aka cancer – as rarely as possible; and end every consultation by asking if they had any questions for him. As Jan recalls, Dr. B never failed to open a consultation with a conversational question or remark about sports, school, career, family – really anything unrelated to their skin – to show that he could “relate to them on a human level.”
Doing so was especially important with kids, who rarely posed a diagnostic challenge for Dr. B but are the patients whose lives he most significantly impacted.
“Bill was particularly good at relating to teens who came in with acne,” Jan says, “because both he and they weren’t strangers to hurtful comments and the potential for lower self-confidence due to their appearance.” Being in a wheelchair allowed Bill to tell such patients that he “got it,” to gain their respect, and to thereby deliver an empowering message on maturity that didn’t fall on deaf ears. “I told every teen that I wrote an acne prescription for the exact same thing,” says Bill. “I told them ‘It’s YOUR responsibility to use this, NOT your mom’s,’ and hopefully some of them listened to me.”
Still “An Institution”
Based on the regularity with which former patients – many of them former kids – and former patients’ parents approach Dr. B and Jan in the community to thank them for helping them, or their child, and thereby giving them greater self-confidence, it’s clear that many teens did indeed follow Dr. B’s instructions.
Given his career-long combination of near-perfect diagnosis and personalized patient care to match, it’s also no surprise that Dr. B is often described as “an institution” in Glen Burnie.
And the admiration is mutual.
As Dr. B and Jan, who often say they feel that they lucked out by opening their doors where they did, shout in unison, “the people in Glen Burnie are absolutely WONDERFUL! They are our kind of people, and our lives are immeasurably richer due to our exposure to each and every one of our tens of thousands of patients.”
Dr. B adds, “I got more from dermatology than I put into it. It gave me a sense of purpose in life.”
Like I said: Remarkable.