Peggy Fuller, MD, has come a long way since her adolescence as a sharecropper’s daughter in a farming community near Chapel Hill, N.C. Since then, Fuller, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Esthetics Center for Dermatology in Charlotte, has received an Ivy League education, traveled to Sri Lanka in fall 2005 to assist tsunami victims, and been designated as one of the Thousand Points of Light for her medical work and volunteer service.
However, Fuller has never forgotten her farming years when she and her four sisters and one brother picked vegetables and tobacco.
“The lessons that I learned that were probably most valuable to me, I learned working on the farm,” Fuller says. Those lessons, she adds, made her the person she is today.
Started as internist
Fuller earned her medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine, and completed her internship and residency in internal medicine at Boston V.A. Medical Center.
A National Health Service Corps scholarship helped her pay her way through medical school, but in return for the scholarship, Fuller spent four years working with female prisoners at the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Lexington, Kentucky — an experience she says will always be with her.
“Let me say, unequivocally, that I did not want to fulfill my payback obligation in a prison,” Fuller explains. “But that is probably the one experience that changed my life — for the better. Some [prisoners] were there for white-collar crimes, others were incarcerated for drug offenses. But I also came to realize that, in some way, some of the brightest and most intelligent people are in jail. It was just a matter of the choices that they made.”
Choice is a key element in Fuller’s life. She had built a thriving career in internal medicine early on, but when her toddler son was badly burned and required specialized skin care, the ever-present interest in dermatology prompted her to change directions in her career.
“I was interested in dermatology from the last rotation I completed in medical school, but I tucked it away in the back of my mind,” Fuller recalls. “And after my son was burned, going through the healing process, and watching people’s reactions and questions, it gave me a sensitivity, and definitely cemented the idea [of returning to school].”
Back to school
At Brown University, where Fuller pursued her residency in dermatology, she was the oldest in her class by several years, and out of practice at studying for tests.
“It was very challenging,” she recalls. “Some days I thought I was crazy for going back.” But she persevered. “I didn’t want to look back with regret and say, ‘I wish I had pursued that dermatology residency. I wish I would have followed my dreams.’”
Fuller says that she learned a great deal from her younger colleagues, and likes to think they learned something from her as well.
“It was so symbiotic,” she says. “We learned so much from each other because of the different ages. It was challenging, but I’m better for it. And I learned an entirely different way of teaching and education. I don’t think I’m a traditional learner. Part of our program was you really had to be able to teach the younger residents, and so each group had to teach the younger group, and it’s really made me a better physician.”
After completing her residency in dermatology, Fuller served as a staff physician at Charlotte Dermatology, but she vowed to create a soothing, spa-like environment where she could talk with each patient as long as she needed.
The Esthetics Center for Dermatology is the culmination of that dream. She draws broadcasters and other high-profile individuals from nine states to her practice in a custom-designed facility that feels more like an open and spacious home. Her client roster includes U.S. executives from New York; Washington, D.C.; and California. She also has international clientele, with patients from China, England, Germany, South America and Africa.
But Fuller also does her share of traveling. In addition to her two-week mission to post-tsunami Sri Lanka to help rebuild homes, she also took a one-year sabbatical to help develop AIDS organizations in Recife, Brazil and Kenya. Last year she traveled to Vietnam on a medical mission, and regularly volunteers locally at HIV/AIDS and indigent care-related facilities.
Despite all the time she puts into volunteer work, Fuller admits that she isn’t entirely sure why she’s so drawn to it; she just feels drawn to the work.
“I’ve looked at it over the last few decades, and I didn’t even realize this was something that was commonly occurring,” she says. “I guess that I have just been so blessed by God that this is just my way of Him allowing me to give back.”
Fuller’s work has earned her the designation as one of the Thousand Points of Light, a phrase first invoked by President George H.W. Bush during his inaugural address. He envisioned a “thousand points of light,” and invited Americans to take action through service to their fellow citizens.
However, Fuller is humble about the label.
“I just feel it means I’m being a good citizen,” she says. “That I’m doing good to all men. I enjoy going to the places I go to also, but with the gifts I’ve been given, if I can go to a place and make someone’s day a little brighter, and show them the kindness and be an ambassador, I just feel that I’m compelled to do it.”
The soft-spoken Fuller has seen sorrow and suffering, as well as joy and ecstasy. Philosophically, she believes that everything works together for the good.
“I’ve had to learn that the pivotal moments in my life have been when I was probably not fearful of pursuing something,” she says. “That’s how life is. Sometimes the most painful moments are actually the most beautiful moments.”