CHUBBUCK — When Dr. Earl Stoddard founded the Idaho Skin Institute 10 years ago, it was just him, an office manager, a receptionist and a couple medical assistants and nurses running the show. Since then, the practice has grown to 31 employees, including two doctors and three physician assistants, with a combined 37 years of dermatological experience.
The Idaho Skin Institute has been at its current location at 147 W. Chubbuck Road in Chubbuck since 2010. The modern clinic has treated more than 22,500 people for everything from skin cancer to acne and psoriasis, and it even provides some cosmetic dermatology services, though Stoddard said about 80 percent of what they do is medical. The institute also recently opened a second location in Burley.
Stoddard’s practice within the institute focuses mostly on the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. The doctor, who graduated from Duke University Medical Center, said he is the only doctor in the area who is a fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Mohs surgery is a precise surgical technique used to treat skin cancer. During Mohs surgery, thin layers of cancer-containing skin are progressively removed and examined until only cancer-free tissue remains.”
Besides skin cancer treatment, the Idaho Skin Institute treats a wide variety of other skin conditions.
“(We do a lot of) medical dermatology where we treat psoriasis, eczema, acne, common things like warts, mole inspections, everything that could be considered general medical dermatology, all types of rashes and other skin conditions,” said Stoddard, who is the medical director of the institute.
In the decade that the institute has been around, Stoddard said there have been a lot of big changes in the treatment of many different skin issues, but the biggest changes have come in the treatment of psoriasis, eczema and skin cancer.
“The biggest change in dermatology over the last probably 10 years is that for patients who have suffered for years with severe psoriasis and eczema, there are now treatments that are so much more effective than what we had 10 or 15 years ago that are taking these patients who have have always had skin lesions, even though they were partially treated, they couldn’t be cleared,” Stoddard said. “We are now able to clear almost all of those patients and they don’t have any evidence of the disease at all. That is probably the biggest change I’ve seen. The other change I’ve seen is, with regards to treatment of advanced melanoma, there’s now hope. The new what they call immunotherapy, as opposed to chemotherapy, is actually helping cure people with more advanced-staged melanoma or just prolonging their life in a way that is actually meaningful where they actually maintain their quality of life.”
As far as cosmetic dermatology goes, Stoddard said people have a much greater number of options now. The institute has cosmetic services including dermal fillers, injectable neurotoxins, microneedling, laser treatment of unwanted veins, hair and brown spots, chemical peels, hydrafacials and more.
“The number of treatment options for patients who come in with cosmetic desires has grown tremendously,” he said. “There’s a lot more there to offer patients than was available 10 or 15 years ago when really all that people had was Botox.”
Stoddard said the most important work the Idaho Skin Institute does is diagnose and treat skin cancer. Because of that, the institute does free skin cancer screenings on the first Tuesday of every month at 5 p.m.
“If they have spots they’re concerned about, at no cost to them, we’ll take a look,” Stoddard said. ”If something needs treatment, we’ll recommend the treatment, but they don’t necessarily have to receive that treatment in our office. They can go wherever they feel comfortable. We’ve been doing that for over 10 years, and in that clinic, I’m confident we’ve diagnosed hundreds of cases of skin cancer.”
Stoddard said there’s a common misconception that melanoma is the most common type of skin cancer. In fact, basal cell carcinoma is the most common and squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common. Both of those are relatively easy to treat through surgery, Stoddard said. His clinic also treats melanoma, which is the third most common type of skin cancer.
If someone has an advanced diagnosis, Stoddard said the Idaho Skin Institute has no issue working with other doctors and hospitals in the region.
“We’ve had tremendous support from the other doctors in the community,” Stoddard said. “They’ve been really good about reaching out and asking for help with their patients, but also helping us when we’ve needed help with our patients. It’s a great place to work with other doctors in town. We’re really lucky in Pocatello, in Chubbuck, to have such a great network of doctors.”
While the majority of the patients at the Idaho Skin Institute leave happier than when they came in, sometimes someone comes in and their medical issue is too far gone, primarily with skin cancer.
Stoddard gave an example of a man who was recently married and had a new child, and his melanoma was too advanced by the time he reached out to the institute. It was too late for him, and despite treatment, a year or two later he died.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Stoddard said. “You always wonder if we could have caught it earlier, if the outcome would have been different.”
Those cases always affect Stoddard, but they also renew his passion for his job and make him want to spread the message that most skin cancers if detected early are easily treatable, but that if you wait too long for treatment, it can end in tragedy.
“They call medicine a practice because you are practicing medicine every day, and hopefully you’re learning something,” Stoddard said. “... In any case that doesn’t go well, when you make your best effort to help a patient, you always go back and look and see if there’s something you could have done differently to help somebody. And sometimes there is something you could have done differently. For future patients when they come in, your experience should make you a better doctor.”
Stoddard does see some tragic cases, but with most people, he and his team catch skin cancer before it’s too late.
“We’ve had lots of patients come in where we’ve been able to detect their skin cancers early and treat them before they became a problem,” Stoddard said. “... There are lives that can be saved if we detect cancers early.”
And there are plenty of instances of people leaving with greatly improved quality of life, thanks to some of the other treatments the institute provides.
“Some of my most favorite stories are just these teenagers who come in with severe acne, and they’re going through this crucial period of their life where they’re trying to discover who they are and trying to develop a certain amount of self-confidence that they’ll carry with them throughout the rest of their life,” Stoddard said. “Severe acne can not only make it difficult to navigate that teenage period of your life just from a social perspective, but, if neglected, it can leave scars that will be with you forever. Some of the best things that I’ve experienced are just taking these kids who come in, they’re resilient, but they’re having a hard time just because their outside doesn’t reflect their insides. Being able to get them clear of acne and to see their confidence go up and define a sense of ‘This is me. My outside now reflects my insides,’ is really, really fun.”
Some of Stoddard’s other favorite cases involve people with severe psoriasis getting their lives completely turned around.
“Patients with severe psoriasis can have dry, flaky, red patches of skin on their scalp, on their face, on their arms, on their legs,” he said. “About a third of them also have severe arthritis that’s associated with the condition. Those people, it really limits their quality of life. They can’t do things they would like to do, either because they don’t want to expose portions of their skin. They don’t wear T-shirts or shorts in the summer. They don’t want to go to the swimming pool because it’s embarrassing. Or their joints are so stiff or bothered, it’s painful to take a walk with their family or their loved one or go on a bike ride or things like that. With these new treatments ... these patients can in many, many cases actually become clear of disease for all intents and purposes.”
Stoddard said the success of his practice has not just been because of him. He said a lot of that success is because of the employees of the institute.
“They’re very concerned about making sure that when you’re dealing with a problem that’s unpleasant, we make your care as pleasant as it possibly can be and it’s as easy for you as it can possibly be in a difficult situation,” he said. “I didn’t build this on my own.”
Stoddard said the Idaho Skin Institute is planning on continuing to serve the people of the region for a long time to come, and one of the biggest reasons for that is because the people they serve are some of the best.
“One of the best parts about practicing (here) are the people we serve,” Stoddard said. “They are so kind to us and so appreciative of our best efforts. ... It makes it just a really great place to be a doctor, and it makes you want to do your very best.”
For more information, visit idahoskininstitute.com.