Although widely known as the physicians who help teens treat acne, a dermatologist deals with far more. In fact, they are responsible for helping patients with medical conditions of the body's largest and fastest-growing organ - the skin. The also specialize in skin appendages, such as hair and nails. These physicians are also be responsible for helping patients with the improvement to their physical appearance as it relates to the skin, hair and nails; for example, lessening the appearance or wrinkles or scars. And for those that have a desire to learn how to become a dermatologist, the career and educational path is a challenging - yet; highly rewarding one indeed.
What is a Dermatologist?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, dermatologists are responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of more than 3,000 different diseases involving the skin, hair and nails. They are trained to evaluate and manage patients of all ages, from newborns to individuals well over 100 years old. Their days can range from identifying and treating skin cancers, moles and tumors to helping patients with inflammatory skin disorders and issues such scars or hair loss.
There are a number of board-certified sub-specialties available for dermatologists to pursue, including areas like Dermatopathology and Pediatric Dermatology. Dermatologist may also conduct research, teach educational courses in academia or complete scientific case studies into common medical issues plaguing the dermatological community.
Understanding the Educational Path to Become a Dermatologist
A four-year medical degree, followed by a three-year residency program in dermatology is the primary educational requirements for a profession as a board-certified Dermatologist. However, the educational path begins by receiving a Bachelor's Degree from an accredited college or university.
According to the The New York Times, dermatology is one of the most varied and competitive medical specialties. In fact, at U.S. medical institutions, only 61 percent of seniors who select dermatology as their first choice residency are typically awarded a position in the field. Comparatively, 98 percent of those pursuing internal medicine and 99 percent for family medicine received their first choice field or residency.
Students interested in pursuing dermatology should keep the competitive nature of the specialty in mind during their educational career and should earn volunteer hours, demonstrate strong performance in core pre-med and medical course, enter competitions and gain relevant experience whenever possible.
Educational Path of a Dermatologist
Earn a bachelor's degree.
A bachelor’s degree is the first higher-education step toward becoming an dermatologist. Although candidates complete a broad range of undergraduate majors, students should complete the courses the American Association of Medical Colleges found most medical schools require as prerequisites: biology, physics, and chemistry, along with written and oral communication course study.
During their undergraduate degree, students wanting to gain an edge in the competitive medical school application pool would benefit from taking career and advanced education oriented steps like joining pre-medical organizations, completing community service at mental health centers, shadowing physicians and studying for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). Before graduating, a candidate should apply to medical school.
Complete a medical school program
During medical school, future Dermatologists spend their first year primarily in the classroom absorbing knowledge in areas like anatomy, histology, pathology, biochemistry, psychology, ethics and preparing for Objective Structured Clinical Exams. The second year, while still in the classroom, is more clinically focused. Third and fourth year students will transition into clinical rotations and gain exposure to a wide range of potential specializations, including internal medicine.
Complete a Residency
Following medical school, graduates pursuing dermatology should apply to complete a three-year dermatology residency. Once accepted and matched with a program, residents will spend 36 months seeing patients, learning to treat and diagnose skin, hair and nail conditions, and receiving surgical training, such as skin and nail biopsies, cryotherapy, injections and excisions.
The residency process includes several individual phases including:
Earn a Sub Specialty
Dermatologists interested in specializing even further can apply for and complete fellowships in one of the three American Board of Dermatology-approved sub-specialties. These include Dermatopathology, Pediatric Dermatology, and Procedural Dermatology. Following the successful completion of a fellowship, Dermatologists may apply to sit for their respective sub-specialty exam.
Understanding the Career Path of a Dermatologist
Dermatology is almost always an outpatient function, meaning dermatologists typically work in clinics or private practice. However, dermatologists do sometimes complete rounds, caring for hospital inpatients or completing emergency assessments. Typically, board certified dermatologists spend the majority of their time in outpatient clinics or completing related surgeries.
On occasion, these physicians' works as part of a team of consultants with plastic and maxillofacial surgeons and oncologists in order to best aid patients suffering from diseases such as skin cancer. Dermatology is a medical specialty that often completes a typical 8 to 5 work week, and requires very few weekends as compared to other types of physicians.
Professional organizations can be used as a means for networking, community service, think tanks, research, continued education and specialized learning. Podiatrists should consider joining one or more of the following niche organizations:
According to Medscape’s 2014 Dermatologist Compensation report, the average salary for a U.S. dermatologist is $308,000, ranking in top third of highest paying physician specialties. The top earners come primarily from the Southwest and Northwest regions, with average salaries reaching up to $385,000.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track job growth statistics for the specialty of dermatology, the demand for physicians in general is expected to grow 18 percent from 2012 till 2022, far faster than average. However, a common reality is that the skin is the largest organ on the human body. And with more young adults still struggling with common skin conditions including acne during puberty, and the growing rates of skin related diseases, the need for highly qualified dermatologists will ensure this profession is needed for several years to come.