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How to Become a Dermatologist

June 3, 2022
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About Dermatologists and DermatologyChallenges of Becoming a DermatologistHow Long Does It Take to Become a Dermatologist?Other Factors and ConsiderationsFAQs: Becoming a Dermatologist


Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 6/3/22

Are you interested in becoming a dermatologist? We will help you learn the milestones you must take and advise and set your future in dermatology.

The skin is an incredible organ. It is the first line of defense against disease, protects your other organs, manages your body temperature, and lets you know your health status. Becoming a dermatologist means you are an expert on this organ, knowing how it works and the unique skills when treating skin.

A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in conditions of the skin, hair, and nails. Getting into dermatology is a fulfilling career choice, but many people do not know where to begin. Here you will receive general information about becoming a dermatologist: what to study, the amount of training, what a day in the life of a dermatologist is, and the like.

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About Dermatologists and Dermatology

Dermatologists usually fall under four main categories of care.

General or Medical Dermatology

These dermatologists deal with general and common concerns, such as skin cancers, viral warts, acne, hair loss, and rashes. They also perform procedures such as skin biopsies and injections. General dermatology is the most predictable of all four, with quick office visits but continual visits with patients. When you study dermatology, you are also tasked with researching complex diseases.

Aesthetic Dermatology

This specialty deals with cosmetic concerns, such as wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, textural changes, scarring, or redness. They perform cosmetic procedures and laser surgeries, which are also clinic-based with in-office, same-day procedures. These types of dermatologists usually deal with facelifts, collagen filters, botox, scar revisions, and fat transplantation, to name a few.

Surgical Dermatology 

Focuses on Mohs micrographic surgery, a precise surgical technique that treats skin cancers. Mohs surgeons also do simple excisions or biopsies. Patients generally need local anesthetics for these procedures, and you're most likely to have repeat patients in this area. Patients need continual monitoring of their skin cancers and other treatments post-surgery to see if the healing is going well.

Inpatient Dermatology

Inpatient dermatologists work as consultants for primary hospital services, such as internal medicines, pediatrics, or surgery for those hospitalized with dermatologic conditions. They can work in other capacities and have their clinics but can make hospital calls. There isn't a grand demand for dermatologic emergencies. However, this area is reserved for professionals who recommend certain procedures or treatments.

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The Pros and Cons of Becoming a Dermatologist

Dermatologists have one of the most competitive medical practices to match into. This is not in vain, though; reports claim that dermatology is in the top five specialties for physician satisfaction, compensation, and job demand. So, ensure you take note of the advantages and disadvantages when it comes to being a dermatologist.

On the one hand, dermatology is an exciting profession as you'll be dealing with different patients, performing surgery, and working towards treating and curing diseases. The job also offers patient variety, meaning you will meet people of all ages, backgrounds, and the like that seek help for medical or surgical treatments. These are the top reasons why dermatology is one of the hardest specialties to get into. 

On the other hand, due to the extreme competitiveness of this profession, many applicants tend to take several years off from medical school to research dermatology more and enhance their chances when applying to school. 

You are not left with many connections between you and your patient; fast-paced means they see you for a quick appointment, and then you send them on their way for the appropriate treatment.

Dermatologists go through exhaustive training and attend school for many years, being taught how to diagnose and treat more than 3000 hair, skin, and nails diseases (not including cosmetic concerns). You deal with many self-conscious patients who have an extreme lack of self-worth due to their skin conditions, which impact their everyday lives.

Table outlining the positive and negative attributes of pursing a career in Dermatology

How Long Does It Take to Become a Dermatologist?

It could take a cumulative amount of 12 years to become a dermatologist. You must complete an undergraduate degree, study in medical school, and complete a residency to become fully licensed.

6 Steps of Becoming a Dermatologist

When you want to become a dermatologist, there are certain degrees, tests, and programs you have to finish before you can practice. Here are the six major steps to becoming a certified dermatologist.

Obtain Your Bachelor's Degree

You will need a bachelor's degree to be considered for medical school. You can choose whatever major you want, but you have to make sure that you have all the necessary credits and educational requirements for medical school. 

Many aspiring medical students study courses in biology or biochemistry, but it’s not necessarily a requirement for every medical school.Speak with your academic advisor for insight on how to proceed with your medical school journey. They can help you understand the right steps to take and the best plan of action. Always aim for high grades to help you increase your chances of getting into medical school.

Complete Medical School

Before you can get accepted into a competitive medical school, you must have exceptional grades along with an acceptable score on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). You can make a list of your top medical schools and research each one to see which one best suits you, as it will dictate your application process and your educational requirements. 

Medical schools tend to have meticulous application processes, so prepare properly. Have all your necessary documents ready and be sure to research your statement and gather references. Some med schools also require a list of extracurricular engagements, interviews, or additional tests before they’ll offer you acceptance.

Obtain All Requirements

No matter where you study dermatology, there are always certain requirements you must meet to become a resident dermatologist. Research these requirements in whatever state you reside or wish to practice in. You will have to pass all three parts of the USMLE and receive proper certification from the American Board of Dermatology.

Complete Your Residency

Your residency program will train you to work as a fully licensed dermatologist before you are qualified. These residencies can take five years to complete; two years of basic medical training, at least 12 months in internal medicine, three months in pediatrics, and others depending on your schedule. Your basic clinical training will include rheumatology, infectious diseases, and oncology.

After your basic clinical training, you will need to take three years of dermatology training, with a minimum of one year in general hospital training. You will need six months of providing consultation or inpatient healthcare following that. 

After completing residency, many students choose to pursue further training in sub-specialized fields such as cosmetic surgery, laser medicine, immunohematology, or Moh's micrographic surgery. This is done through a one- or two-year fellowship.

Get Your Licence or Certification

You must get and keep a current license in order to practice. After completing medical school and residency, you are eligible to sit for the Dermatology Board Examination, which is administered by the American Board of Dermatology to be deemed board-certified.

Suppose you have completed a fellowship and passed general board examinations. In that case, you can get further certification and take the Subspecialty Board Examination, which is a test that you must re-take and pass every ten years and complete continuing medical education throughout your career.

Apply for a Job

Once you are officially certified, you can start searching for a job. Make sure to update your resume to reflect your education and qualifications. Write a cover letter and tailor it to each individual employer and their requirements. Below is a list of the most common places for a dermatologist to work.

Other Factors and Considerations

Aside from academic and professional training, you also must consider any intrinsic skills required when working as a dermatologist. You are working in a very delicate area of the medical field, so you must be understanding and communicative to have patients trust you and have a good reputation. Some optimal skills to have or work on would be: 

FAQs: Becoming a Dermatologist

1. What Are the Subspecialties of Dermatology?

There are many subspecialties in dermatology, so you have to research the specific ones you wish to specialize in. 

2. How Much Does a Dermatologist Make Yearly?

A dermatologist's average salary can be up to $266,279 per year in the United States.

The average salary is $266,279 per year in the United States. As of January 2022, the average hourly wage of a dermatologist is $173 per hour.

3. Is There a Growing Demand For Dermatologists?

Yes. Job growth for dermatologists is projected at a healthy 7% increase in demand in the coming years. Since 2004, increasing vacancies for dermatologists have gone up 80%, outpacing the national average of vacancy growth for many other jobs.

4. What Does A Typical Day Look Like for a Dermatologist?

It depends on where you work. You can make your hours and availability if you have your private practice. If you work for a hospital or some other center, your day can have set hours, or you can be on-call for emergencies.

5. What Are Some Good Courses to Take in School for Dermatology?

Pre-med students must meet the minimum course requirements by most medical schools, but your major does not matter as long as you meet them. It would not hurt to take science and math courses to better understand the medical field, such as biology I and II, calculus, or biochemistry.

6. Is Becoming a Dermatologist Worth It?

It depends on how much workload you can handle. Becoming a dermatologist can be very rewarding in compensation, knowledge, and treatment of skin diseases. You must be hardworking and confident in yourself to achieve such a goal.

7. What Interchangeable Skills Are Beneficial in Becoming a Dermatologist?

It all boils down to just being a decent, caring person. Have empathy, be respectful, be culturally competent, have compassion, and research when working as a dermatologist.

Final Thoughts

Helping cancer patients, people with skin ailments, and other conditions is a rewarding and gratuitous career. Dermatology is an interesting and extravagant career choice, where you are helping people feel comfortable in their skin. Then, it is paramount to take the proper steps, plan out your goals, and be serious about achieving your dream of becoming a dermatologist. 

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