How To

How to Become a Dermatologist

Arran Stewart

Arran Stewart

Arran James Stewart is the co-founder and CVO of blockchain recruitment …


Dermatologists specialize in treating the skin but also work with the hair or nails. This type of physician can treat cancer, infections, acne, genetic disorders and address various cosmetic issues.

A dermatologist has several responsibilities, which is one of the reasons why achieving this specialty is so challenging. Unlike an esthetician, a dermatologist diagnoses patients, records their medical histories, creates treatment plans and performs surgical procedures when necessary.

Dermatologists need to master a wide range of skills and keep up with the latest medical advancements. Some treatments also take multiple sessions, and dermatologists track patient progress, address concerns, and prescribe necessary medication.

Career Trajectory

Knowing how to become a dermatologist is helpful, but it’s also essential to understand how this career will benefit you over time as the demand for dermatologists changes. So far, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics , dermatologists can expect average growth in demand for their skills which is excellent news.

This average growth indicates that the need for dermatologists and other physicians is more consistent than with other occupations, which means better job security and excellent compensation should continue.

How Do I Become a Dermatologist?

So, how hard is it to become a dermatologist? Becoming a dermatologist means going through the same process as becoming a doctor but with unique dermatological training at various milestones. Let’s explore how to become a dermatologist and the steps you’ll need to take.

These specialized physicians have a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university, have attended four years of medical school, and complete both a residency and fellowship equaling roughly 14 years of training.

As with other medical doctors, dermatologists will have duties that vary day-to-day based on the patients they work with and the procedures performed. To prepare students for this rigorous schedule, they’ll need to complete a bachelors' degree that includes pre-med courses in subjects such as:

  • Biology
  • Organic and general chemistry
  • Physics
  • Biochemistry

Some schools require other subjects for students to graduate, such as advanced math, and the best major can vary based on the preferences of the medical school you’d like to attend. After completing a bachelors’ degree, students take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and enter medical school for an additional four years.

To gain admission to medical school, you’ll need an excellent undergraduate GPA as these schools only admit a very small percentage of applicants.

Following medical school, students enter a residency program where they spend a year working as an intern in the internal medicine department or general surgery ward. Residents then spend an additional three years working in the dermatology area to gain clinical experience.

Next comes a fellowship program. This training milestone is where dermatology residents tend to pursue specialties within dermatology. These specialties include laser treatments , phototherapy, cosmetic surgery, and dermatopathology. Most fellowships last a year, but some programs last two years.

The final step for a dermatologist is to acquire a license or certification that allows you to practice. Dermatology fellows take the Dermatology Board Examination given by the American Board of Dermatology (ABD). Once a fellow has passed this exam, they are “board-certified” and can pursue further certifications for subspecialties.

To maintain these certifications and licenses, dermatologists have to retake the examination every ten years and participate in other continuing medical education (CME) classes for their entire careers.

How Much Does a Dermatologist Make?

Now that you know how to become a dermatologist, you’re probably wondering how much these physicians make? According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics , the median pay for a physician is around $208,000 per year, which works out to roughly $100 per hour.

Specialties such as dermatology typically make a little bit more than this, but that number varies based on your qualifications and where you apply to work. If your area has a higher demand for dermatologists, you’ll likely see higher compensation and better benefits.

Are Requirements Different from State to State?

Physicians need to acquire medical licenses in the state where they practice, and the requirements for these licenses vary. There are some exceptions for emergencies and between bordering states, but in general, physicians need to comply with the states’ medical board requirements .

Navigating these requirements is a tricky process since it’s not uniform from state to state. Still, in general, you can expect to verify your education, training, and current medical license or certification. You may also need to provide exam scores, proof of hospital privileges, references, and any current or past licenses you’ve held.

Skill Sets Required to Become a Dermatologist

Not everyone is suited to dermatology, but if you want to know how to become a successful dermatologist, you’ll need several skills. Many patients look for a dermatologist with a caring personality, also referred to as bedside manner.

Dermatologists need to be good communicators and explain complicated concepts to patients in a helpful way by utilizing their large knowledge base. A dermatologist also needs to have excellent diagnostic skills as they evaluate parts of the human body, such as the skin, where a lot of normal variation exists.

As with other physicians, dermatologists also need to provide a high standard of care to their patients, including a thorough treatment plan, progress tracking, and an accurate diagnosis. Patients aren’t always the best at communicating their symptoms or answering questions, so dermatologists need to have patience and investigative skills.

Lastly, you’ll need to have the ability to work well as part of a team and possess teaching skills. Many hospitals have established physicians to mentor residents or fellows, and dermatologists will also work with nurses and other assistants.

What’s the Career Progression for a Dermatologist?

Dermatologists ultimately have the option to continue pursuing subspecialties and grow their practice to other areas. Advancement opportunities also include teaching, supervising, and research which all offer a wealth of opportunities.

For example, an experienced dermatologist may mentor incoming residents or teach medical students. Dermatologists may also decide to switch to research instead of only focusing on patient care. Another option is to supervise other dermatologists in their department.

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