A pioneering physician in the Twin Cities died earlier this week from complications of cancer.
Dr. Charles Crutchfield III of Eagan was an award-winning dermatologist who was one of the first medical professionals to tailor skin treatments for people of color. He was also known as a tireless advocate for health education.
Crutchfield’s death on Wednesday was reported by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, the oldest Black-owned newspaper in the state, where he published regular columns on medical issues ranging from pre-diabetes to the danger of leaving children in a hot car.
Crutchfield, 62, was one of the first physicians in the country to recognize the lack of knowledge many dermatologists have about skin conditions in people of color, said Dr. Maria Hordinsky, a professor and chair of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota, where Crutchfield taught medical students.
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“He was always advancing knowledge, always advancing research and always advancing education,” Hordinsky said. “That was something innate in him, to always be doing the right thing.”
Hordinsky said Crutchfield’s personality was larger than life.
“You know how sometimes you walk into a room and you feel and can see the radiance of a person, well, Charles had that magnified probably times ten,” Hordinsky said. “People around Dr. Charles Crutchfield always felt good because of his kindness, his positive attitude on life — that’s one of the reasons it’s hard for us to completely accept the fact that he’s gone.”
Crutchfield was receiving treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the Mayo Clinic, according to a social media post at Crutchfield Dermatology. His practice, which colleagues have helped staff during his sickness, is closed until next week in his honor.
Just last Friday, Hordinsky said, medical residents gave Crutchfield an outstanding teacher award, which was sent to Crutchfield in the hospital.
One of the many medical students influenced by Crutchfield was Dr. Nathan Chomilo, a pediatrician, professor and director of the state Medicaid and MinnesotaCare programs. Crutchfield was someone who could make a medical student feel seen, even if they only talked briefly, he said. As Chomilo progressed through his career, Crutchfield seemed to be ever present.
“He would just start to send me random notes of encouragement just to reach out,” Chomilo said. “For a guy who was incredibly busy, it really left a mark that he took time to think about, encourage, folks in the next generation, no matter where they were in their career.”
Crutchfield is also being remembered for his presence in the community. He recruited colleagues to write for the Spokesman-Recorder. And Crutchfield was one of the first Minnesotans to get the COVID-19 vaccination. He wrote a column about it for the newspaper urging other Black Minnesotans to get vaccinated.
“How many dermatology practices were providing COVID-19 shots? I don’t think too many,” Chomilo said. “But he did because he knew it mattered to have availability of that shot from a trusted provider, to be able to talk to a provider you trusted about your questions, concerns and options.”
Apart from all his accomplishments, Chomilo said Crutchfield was a family man, proud of his parents, wife and kids. His parents Charles Crutchfield Jr. and Susan Ellis-Crutchfield were both graduates of the University of Minnesota Medical School and groundbreaking Black physicians in the Twin Cities.
Crutchfield tried to carry on his family’s legacy of service. He and his family, including his wife Laurie, have hosted an annual lecture series at the university that focuses on treating skin conditions in people of color for about a decade. They also established a foundation and educational scholarships, including one in honor of activist and journalist Mel Reeves, who died of COVID-19 last year.
The Crutchfield family’s commitment to wellness in the community was obvious to Amira Adawe, founder of the Beautywell Project, which works to end skin-lightening practices and help women whose skin has been damaged by the products.
“He was always there emotionally to support those women who had been damaged by chemicals in skin lightening,” Adawe said. “It’s just so sad to lose somebody with that type of knowledge, but also, somebody who has been there for women of color and people of color in general to treat their skin that’s been damaged.”
Adawe and Crutchfield partnered together for about a decade. Sometimes, Crutchfield would even treat underinsured patients at his own expense, Adawe said. She’s worried about finding another physician with such a deep understanding of colorism, discrimination against individuals with darker skin tones in communities of color, who can help heal and support patients she works with.
In his final column for the Spokesman-Recorder in March, Crutchfield told readers his cancer had returned. True to form, he thanked readers for their “wishes and prayers,” but used the news to educate readers about cancer and options for treatment.
Memorial plans have not yet been publicly announced.