How to Become a Dermatologist

March 18, 2024


Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 10/10/23

Wondering how to become a dermatologist? We’ll help you learn the steps you must take to set your future in dermatology.

The skin is an incredible organ. It’s 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’re a skin expert, knowing how it works and how to treat it.

A dermatologist specializes in conditions of the skin, hair, and nails. This guide will teach you general information about becoming a dermatologist: what to study, the amount of training, what a day in the life of a dermatologist is, and more.

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Becoming a Dermatologist in 6 Steps

When you want to become a dermatologist, there are many steps you must finish before you can practice. Here are the six major steps to becoming a certified dermatologist.

Obtain Your Bachelor's Degree

You’ll need a bachelor's degree to get into medical school. You can choose whatever major you want, but you must take all the necessary courses for medical school. 

Many aspiring medical students major in science, but it’s not necessarily a requirement for medical school. Speak with your academic advisor for insight on how to proceed with your journey. Always aim for high grades to help you increase your chances of getting into medical school.

Complete Medical School

Before being accepted into a competitive medical school, you must take the MCAT and have exceptional grades. Make a list of your top medical schools and research each to see which suits you best.

The medical school application process can be challenging and time-consuming. Have all your necessary documents ready before you start, and do your school research. 

Obtain All Requirements

No matter what school you go to, there are requirements you must meet to become a resident dermatologist. Research these requirements in whatever state you reside or wish to practice in. You’ll have to pass all three parts of the USMLE and receive proper certification from the American Board of Dermatology (ABD).

Complete Your Residency

Your residency program trains you to work as a fully licensed dermatologist before you’re 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 includes rheumatology, infectious diseases, and oncology.

After your basic training, you’ll spend three years training in dermatology, with a minimum of one year in general hospital training. After that, you’ll spend six months providing consultations or inpatient healthcare. 

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

Get Your License or Certification

You must keep a current license to practice. After completing medical school and a dermatology residency, you’re eligible to sit for the Dermatology Board Examination administered by the ABD 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. You must retake this exam and pass it every ten years.

Apply for a Job

Once you’re certified, you can start searching for a job. Ensure you update your resume to reflect your education and qualifications. There are many possible career paths for dermatologists: 

Table outlining the career paths for dermatologists
Table outlining the career paths for dermatologists

Dermatologist Salary and Job Outlook 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of a dermatologist is $327,650. The top four paying industries for dermatologists are as follows: 

Industry Average Annual Salary
Physician Offices $ 333,810
Outpatient Care Centers $ 273,410
Other Health Practitioners Offices $ 200,900
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $ 274,350

States with the highest employment level of dermatologists are: 

  • Texas 
  • Minnesota 
  • Florida 
  • Ohio 
  • Arizona 

Remember, your experience, education, location, and industry can impact your salary. 

How Long Does It Take to Become a Dermatologist?

How long it takes to become a dermatologist depends on whether you take gap years or pursue other dermatology-related opportunities, but it typically takes 12 years. You must complete an undergraduate degree, attend medical school, and complete a residency to become fully licensed.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Dermatologist?

Aside from academic and professional training, you also must consider the skills required of dermatologists. You’re working in a very delicate area of the medical field, so you must be understanding and communicative to have patients trust you. Some optimal skills to have or work on would be: 

  • Strong Communication Skills: Practice active listening, understand their needs, and treat patients with compassion.
  • Caring Personality: Help calm down anxious patients when dealing with their concerns. Practice self-care when needed and work on your stress levels.
  • Being Accessible: Be sure to be as readily available to your patients, be it with the location of your practice, your hours, and whether you can be called in on short notice.
  • Being a Genuinely Caring Person: Advocating for patients' needs and taking their concerns seriously prove you’re an expert, caring professional.

Ensure you spend time honing your soft skills just like you would your technical ones!

The Pros and Cons of Becoming a Dermatologist

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

On the one hand, dermatology is an exciting profession as you'll interact with patients, perform surgery, and work towards treating and curing diseases. The job offers patient variety, meaning you’ll meet people of all ages and backgrounds 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 to research dermatology more and boost their chances of matching into a residency program. 

Dermatologists undergo exhaustive training and attend school for many years, being taught how to diagnose and treat more than 3,000 hair, skin, and nail diseases (not including cosmetic concerns). 

Becoming a Dermatologist FAQs

Still have questions about how to become a dermatologist? Then check out these FAQs! 

1. What are the Different Types of Dermatologists?

There are four main types of dermatologists:

  • General or Medical Dermatologists
  • Aesthetic Dermatologists
  • Surgical Dermatologists
  • Inpatient Dermatologists

Depending on which field of dermatology you want to pursue, your educational requirements might be slightly different.

2. How Much Does a Dermatologist Make Yearly?

The BLS states that the average annual salary of a dermatologist is $327,650.

3. Is There a Growing Demand For Dermatologists?

Yes. Job growth for dermatologists is projected to increase by 7% 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 set your own hours and availability if you have a private practice. If you work in a hospital setting, your day can have set hours, or you can be on-call for emergencies.

5. Is Becoming a Dermatologist Worth It?

It depends on how passionate you are about the specialty. Becoming a dermatologist can be rewarding in terms of compensation, the knowledge you’ll learn, and the difference you’ll make in patients’ lives.

6. What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Dermatologist? 

Dermatologists must attend college and medical school before completing a residency. Afterwards, you can get your license and certification. 

7. How Much Does It Cost to Become a Dermatologist? 

It depends greatly on your lifestyle choices and which schools you attend. The average cost of college per year (including tuition, fees, and other expenses) is $35,551. However, tuition costs at top colleges can be more than double that number alone. The median cost of medical school is estimated to be $218,792, depending on which school you attend.

Final Thoughts

Pursuing a career path in dermatology can be highly rewarding. It’s paramount to take the proper steps, plan your goals, and stay motivated to achieve your dream of becoming a dermatologist. Good luck!

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