Alumna Suzanne Kilmer: Nationally prominent laser surgeon Suzanne Kilmer hosts fellowship and residents in her practice
The truth always wins.
Throughout the past two decades, that adage has guided the career of UC Davis alumna Suzanne L. Kilmer, a prominent board-certified dermatologist nationally recognized for her expertise in laser surgery. An early innovator in use of laser equipment for removal of tattoos, laser resurfacing, laser hair removal and other procedures, Kilmer has consistently refused lucrative offers from manufacturers who have courted her to serve as a spokesperson. She believes that her devotion to conducting research has been beneficial for her, for fellow dermatologists, for manufacturers and for patients alike.
Obviously "the truth" lies somewhere in between these starkly disparate characterizations.
"You can’t escape the truth, so if you adhere to pursuit of the truth you can’t go wrong. Instead of becoming a commercial spokesperson, I became known as a research-oriented dermatologist with a reputation for always telling it like it is. In the long run, that approach has worked very well for me in my career, and I sleep well at night," Kilmer says. "It also has worked out well financially, because most companies want to know which of their prototypes work well before they invest additional money. My need to speak the truth has helped many manufacturers build better devices."
Since acquiring the conventional practice of a retiring Sacramento dermatologist in 1993, Kilmer has molded the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of Northern California (www.skinlasers.com) into one of the world’s largest dermatology laser facilities. She has administered or participated in numerous FDA clinical trials that have led to introduction and acceptance of many dermatology instruments.
"We conducted the first human clinical trials for laser resurfacing, laser hair removal, laser tattoo removal, nonablative lasers, fractional lasers, Thermage and Zeltiq skin-tightening and shaping equipment, and several other devices," says Kilmer, who is on the medical advisory boards of nine equipment manufacturers.
In 2002 Kilmer became the only woman to serve as president of the American Society for Lasers in Medicine and Surgery, a multispecialty organization. The organization also presented her with a presidential citation. Her renown led to appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The View, along with coverage in Newsweek and numerous other magazines and newspapers.
She has maintained an affiliation with UC Davis spanning more than 30 years, beginning with work on her master’s degree in human physiology. She originally had intended to become a professor and researcher in neuromuscular science. But she was married at the time to the late David D. Kilmer, who was then a UC Davis medical student and went on to become professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. She became so intrigued by his studies that she decided to enter medical school.
"I saw that UC Davis Medical Center excelled in integrating specialties as part of patient care, and I found the collaborative approach combining knowledge of different disciplines very appealing," she explains.
After obtaining her M.D. degree here in 1987, Kilmer remained at UC Davis to complete an internship in internal medicine and residency in dermatology, including a year as chief resident. Argon, CO2 and pulsar laser equipment to which she had access during her residency at UC Davis cultivated her interest in newly emerging technologies, prompting her to become the first full-year fellow in cutaneous laser surgery at the Wellman Laboratories of Photomedicine at Harvard Medical School.
You can’t escape the truth, so if you adhere to pursuit of the truth you can’t go wrong.
Kilmer, who specializes in aesthetic procedures using lasers, fillers and botulinum toxins, also performs skin cancer surgery. She is the principal investigator, author and co-author of dozens of published scientific studies and medical book chapters; a member of the editorial boards of several professional publications; and is widely sought as a keynote speaker, panelist and lecturer.
The city of Sacramento presented her with commendations in five successive years for initiating and overseeing a gang tattoo removal program.
Kilmer has served as a UC Davis volunteer associate clinical professor since 1993. She hosts residents who rotate through her Laser and Skin Surgery Center. She also is one of the core faculty members in the Department of Dermatology’s "Procedural Dermatology Fellowship," for which she teaches cosmetic and laser procedures to a fellow who spends a day and a half with her each week.
"Dr. Kilmer was a part of the fellowship program from its inception, and with her help it has grown quickly in reputation from a regionally respected program to a national one," said Daniel Eisen, the UC Davis associate professor of clinical dermatology who directs the fellowship program. Eisen also is the director of aesthetic dermatology, and co-director of dermatologic surgery.
"Our fellows regard Dr. Kilmer as an excellent teacher. She is an invaluable member of our fellowship faculty, and we are honored to have her be an integral part of our program."
In addition, Kilmer is a laser consultant for Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California in Sacramento, where she teaches laser surgery techniques and performs procedures to remove birthmarks, burn scars and hair in areas to be used for skin grafts.
Kilmer is married to Tim Chapman, youngest brother of retired UC Davis orthopaedic trauma surgeon Michael W. Chapman (in whose honor the Michael Chapman Trauma Center is named). Tim Chapman is managing director of the Laser and Skin Surgery Center. Kilmer, who has served on the School of Medicine’s alumni board, regards her ongoing relationships with UC Davis as professionally and personally fulfilling.
"I am truly an academician at heart," she says.