Like most things, dermatology has come a long way over the past four decades.
“The advances in immunology have created a lot of new medical therapies, and there have been a number of improvements in therapy for psoriasis, which is a very common problem,” said Dr. Laurence Sibrack, founder in 1979 of Dermatology Associates of Western Connecticut. “And the cosmetic advances have really blossomed over the last 25 years.”
Also changing is the leadership of the firm. Sibrack splits his year between practicing in the county and living in Naples, Florida – “my title is ‘I’m getting older,’ ” he joked – while Dr. Alicia Zalka, who had been DAWC’s president for a dozen years, recently stepped down in favor of Dr. Jeffrey Knispel.
“I wanted to focus more on patients and less on the political aspects” of the business, said Zalka, who remains a partner with Knispel, Dr. Beth Buscher and Dr. Kimberly Eickhorst. “It was a natural evolution.”
Sibrack indicated the same was true for him, as he segued from president and managing partner to simply an employee in 2007.
The practice has grown significantly since its beginnings 40 years ago at 57 North St. in Danbury.
“I had been working part time at a practice in Westport,” Sibrack said, “and I was looking for a city that had opportunities in dermatology. I called several internists and primary care doctors in the Danbury area, and found they were eager to have a new dermatology practice. It was a pretty good reception from the medical community, which saw the need for a new specialist in the community.”
Danbury at the time was experiencing not only growth in population, but also significant corporate growth, he said. “Union Carbide was here, Boehringer Ingelheim (in Ridgefield), and there was a lot of soft corporate growth in northern Fairfield County as well.”
Seven years later, DAWC moved to 73 Sand Pit Road in Danbury and, over the years, expanded into New Milford, Ridgefield and Southbury. After 35 years at Sand Pit, the Danbury operation moved in May to 170 Mount Pleasant Road in Newtown.
“We were looking for more space at a state-of-the-art location,” Zalka explained. “We’re always expanding, and we were enamored with this new building, which was built to our specifications.”
In addition to seeing patients, the 8,000-square-foot Newtown office houses all of the practice’s administrative employees and serves as DAWC’s hub. “A lot of our clinical staff and our doctors (eight M.D.s, a physician assistant and a medical aesthetician) travel to all our different offices,” she said. “It’s like a traveling Broadway production.”
The firm’s most recent hires are Dr. Caroline LaRosa and advanced practice nurse Maja Matwiejczuk.
Zalka joined the practice in 1995, having completed her medical internship at Yale, where Sibrack has been on the faculty since 1979.
“I talked with my colleagues at Yale, who spoke very highly of him and his practice,” she recalled. “They were looking for help, and when I interviewed, we liked each other immediately.”
Zalka remains a clinical attending physician at the New Haven school’s Department of Dermatology.
Zalka and Sibrack said the dermatology field has changed dramatically since DAWC began.
“Dr. Peter Heald, who retired last year, was instrumental in bringing immunology expertise to the practice,” Sibrack said. “That really helped us grow.”
“When I came here, we did not have any lasers,” Zalka added. “We had to rent one. Now we have our own, and we do quite a bit of laser work.”
DAWC also added its own pathology lab and Mohs unit. The latter, headed by Eickhorst, refers to microscopically controlled surgery used to treat common types of skin cancer, and is named after its developer, Frederic E. Mohs.
The practice has also expanded its cosmetic offerings, Zalka said.
“We only did a little bit of laser procedures when I started, which grew into collagen fillers,” she said.
Botox – approved for medical use in 1987 and for cosmetic use in 2002 – revolutionized the industry, Zalka said, noting that it had become a billion-dollar industry by 2006.
The firm’s addition of aesthetician Crissy Dowling in 2016 has allowed it to offer a full range of skincare services, ranging from facials to eyelash tinting, Zalka noted.
DAWC now attracts a full array of patients, Sibrack said. “We see all age groups, from pediatric to geriatric and everything in-between,” he said.