How to become a Dermatologist?

How to become

Derived from the Greek word “dermatos," meaning skin, dermatology as a discipline was first recognized as a separate branch of medicine in the early eighteen hundreds. While it had been previously practiced for about a century at this stage, it was only in 1801 that the first school devoted to the field came into being.

Dermatology is a field that deals with the skin, and there are many further specializations that can be chosen, like Cosmetic Dermatology, Pediatric Dermatology and Immuno-dermatology to name but a few.

What is a dermatologist?

A dermatologist is best described as a specialist doctor:

  • Their focus is on the skin, mucous membranes (such as those found inside the nose, eyelids, and mouth), nails and hair.
  • They assist people with skin or nail disorders and diseases and can also help to improve the appearance of the skin.

People would go to a dermatologist to help clear up a painful skin condition such as psoriasis or an infection of the nailbed. They might see a dermatologist to help treat skin cancer or acne. There are around about 3 000 different disorders that a dermatologist is able to assist with.

In addition, a dermatologist might be able to help with things of a more cosmetic nature. For example, they can advise on how to reduce the signs of aging such as sunspots, wrinkles, etc. This may entail the use of cosmetic procedures such as the injection of Botox or skin peels, for example.

They can assist with the reduction of scarring from disorders such as acne or scarring as a result of cancer treatments to name just a couple of things.

There is no age range for the patients that might consult them, although treatment options for a five-year-old and those for a fifty-year-old will obviously be vastly different. 


Providing Consultations:

People would go to a dermatologist to help clear up a painful skin condition such as psoriasis or an infection of the nailbed. They might see a dermatologist to help treat skin cancer or acne. There are around about 3 000 different disorders that a dermatologist is able to assist with.

Dermatological Screens:

These entail checking the patient for signs that could point to disease, like suspicious legions, growths, etc. A range of different lights are used to screen for pre-cancerous/ cancerous moles, tumors, melanomas, eczema and different abnormalities. The lymph nodes are thoroughly checked for swelling and lumps.

Diagnostic Testing:

Not all diseases present with easy to see symptoms. Sometimes testing is required to get a more accurate diagnosis. A mole that looks normal could, in fact, be covering up pre-cancerous cells underneath it. In this case, the dermatologist must consider taking a biopsy or skin sample for a definitive diagnosis.

Dermatological Procedures:

Certain minor procedures can easily be done in the surgery, and so the doctor must learn how to do these. These include the removal of warts, melanomas, moles and other such abnormalities. The procedure will normally require the application of a local anesthetic. Treatments are not limited to topical conditions only.

The Prescribing of Medicine:

Depending on the nature of the condition, some medication is bound to be required. In some cases this means administering an injection, prescribing oral medication or creams and salves. The exact treatment would depend on the medication.

Educating Patients:

Educating patients is one of the most important aspects of the job. The doctor will teach them how best to care for their skin, what kind of diet to follow, what the best treatments options are and how to recognize potential warning signs of disease.

Bonuses and Benefits of Dermatologist

There are a lot of perks to being a doctor. With a dermatologist, these can be enhanced by working more reasonable hours. If a dermatologist is employed by a hospital or doctor’s office, they will have full medical and retirement benefits.

Annual bonuses are not guaranteed and would have to be negotiated for upfront. In the USA, for example, bonuses are not part of the standard package.

If they are going into practice on their own, they would need to look to cover themselves in terms of healthcare and retirement. In addition, they would have to provide a basic level of cover for their full-time employees.

Most of the time, they are able to work with a team of people, allowing the patient to have a healthcare experience that is completely holistic.

Dermatologist and salary options vary from city to city and from country to country. In the USA, your basic starting salary is around $80 000 a year and can go up to around $330 000 a year. A dermatologist in private practice can charge between $10 an hour and as much as $160 an hour.

The industry average, according to Payscale is just over $200 000 per annum.

Work Environment of Dermatologist

General Environment


Most doctors in this field work normal office hours because the cases that they deal with are usually not emergency cases. Appointments are normally well-spaced and made in advance.

Office Environment


The office hours will generally be set in accordance with the needs of most of the patients in the practice. Depending on the field of specialization, or if surgery is necessary, this could be more flexible.



Some dermatologists have particular hospitals that they work in conjunction with and some will be employed by a hospital. Most, however, will work in private practice as there is less call for a dermatologist in residence than there would be for a surgeon, for example.

Social Environment


Socially speaking, dermatologists can enjoy a good deal of leisure time and, because of their set office hours, maintain relationships quite well. Because most of their work is not emergency-related, they are less likely to be called out after hours or to even have to be on call at all.



The dermatologist working in academia will generally go one of two ways – into researching or into teaching.

Offices of Physicians


Going into private practice on your own can be expensive. It makes sense for a physician and dermatologist to team up and share rooms to help reduce overheads for both. It is also a good way to build up a nice lot of referrals.

Government/ Healthcare Organizations:


 In this situation, the pay might not be as good as what you would get in private practice but the work can be rewarding – you will be working more with people who would usually not be able to afford your services.

Outpatient Care Centers


There are some dermatologists that can be found in outpatient care centers. Work in this area is usually focused on reconstruction and recovery after cancer surgery.

Self-employed workers 


This is where a doctor sets up their own practice. This is the option that leaves you the highest range of choice when it comes to the hours you work, what you pay yourself, etc. It can also be a highly stressful option. It is a business and must be run as such if you want to make a real go of it.

Working Hours of Dermatologist

Most dermatologists will work standard hours from nine to five. They may work half a day on a Saturday or take it off completely. Sundays will usually be free time to do what they want.

The actual working hours will be dependent on the needs of the practice or the contract signed when employed so these could change.

Generally, though, a dermatologist is not required to be on call – most of the time, even with surgery, the appointment can be left until normal working hours resume.

Work Schedules of Dermatologist

For the most part, the work schedule for most dermatologists is more like a normal nine to five job, then is the case for surgeons or general practitioners. The vast majority of the time, the patients that need treatment are not emergency cases.

Of course, that can change depending on the specialization that you choose. A cosmetic dermatologist can set their own schedule. A Moh surgeon, on the other hand, has a bit less flexibility.

When dealing with the removal of cancerous growths, especially in the cases of pernicious growth, time could well become a factor.

Important Qualities of Dermatologist

In addition to the knowledge gained through years of education, other primary skills are essential to the successful treatment of young patients. 


An eye for detail

When it comes to finding out what the underlying cause of a skin condition is, it can be difficult to determine unless a thorough investigation is carried out. The difference between picking up a disease that could cost someone their life and the beginnings of a benign tumor could be down to a simple and very slight difference in shape. Without a real eye for detail, the dermatologist will be ineffective.

An enquiring mind

 All great doctors see illnesses as complex puzzles that need to be solved. You need to have an enquiring mind to be effective in any segment of the healthcare industry.

Good communication skills

A dermatologist must be able to get their points across to patients in a way that is effective. They need to be excellent communicators to ensure that the patient actually acts on their advice rather than ignores it completely.

A willingness to help people

At the core of any great doctor is the desire to help people. Not because it makes you look good, not because it is going to net you a lot of money but because you really want to help people.

Compassionate and Empathetic

Dermatologists don’t deal with a huge range of devastating injuries. Sometimes the worst you get is a teenager with a huge zit. That’s fantastic. It means that you won’t always have to make life and death decisions. But it can also mean that you start thinking that your patient’s problems are less important. You need to be empathetic at all times.

Prepared to deal with difficult situations

As mentioned above, you are not going to be dealing with life and death situations every day. That could make them a lot harder to deal with when you come across them, though. There are bound to be times where you have to deliver bad news – like that a growth is cancerous and there is little that can be done.


People can be stubborn. They can be told to do something over and over again and refuse to comply, even when it is in their best interests. That is one of the reasons that this job will take a lot of patience.

Good problem-solving skills

The answers are not always going to jump out at you straight off the bat. You need to know how to ask the right questions to solve the problem.

Manually dexterous

You need to be good with your hands in order to be able to take biopsies with the least amount of damage. This is especially important if you are planning on qualifying as a Moh Surgeon.

Similar Occupations

1. Chiropractors

A chiropractor specializes in the neuromusculoskeletal system of the body. They work with the nerves, muscles, and bones. The treatments that they give are in the form of adjustments to the spine and manipulations of the body. These are done to alleviate stress and improve posture.

On the upside, it s believed that the need for chiropractors will increase by around 17% by 2024.

On the downside, the average salary comes in at just over $20 000 per year less – around $58 000. It is also not always seen as an essential service and something that may be cut when funds are tight.

Chiropractors are usually not required to be on call but may be called in if a patient needs an emergency adjustment.

2. Dentist

Dentists specialize in issues with the teeth and gums. They need to assist clients in cleaning and repairing their teeth. They will need to offer a range of treatments from the very simple like cleaning through to more complex crowns, bridges, etc.

Dentists can also specialize if they choose to. For example, they could specialize in reconstructive dentistry.

On the down side, you are working in a difficult industry. People know that they should see the dentist regularly, but they generally only do so when they are experiencing pain or some sort of issue. You are bound to have a client-base that is pretty uncooperative.

They will, by and large, promise you to take better care of their teeth but they don’t always follow through as they should. They may even avoid you when they ignore your advice.

On the upside, it is expected that there will be an 18% increase in posts for dentists. Also, on the upside, dentists tend to earn a lot more on average than dermatologists with the average starting salary being around $123 000.

Dentists might be expected to be on call from time to time.

Projected Future of a Dermatologist

Career Prospects

All told, the medical field is growing. It is expected that the number of posts for medical professionals in the United States will increase by 14% between now and 2024.

The exact amount of growth expected depends on the field of medicine. Dermatology is often considered a "value-add" service by consumers. Clients visiting a dermatologist to aid in the treatment of a skin condition such as acne or eczema might not continue when times are tough.

The range of dermatological treatments covered by most medical insurances is limited, and this could be problematic. A skin biopsy to diagnose cancer, for example, should be covered but acne treatment might be considered a more cosmetic problem.

In general, those without medical insurance might not be able to afford treatments as the costs for biopsies, etc. can be quite high.

On the other side of the coin, as people age, they earn more and so are more able to pay for a professional dermatologist. Also, with aging comes a range of different skin conditions that bring the demand for a dermatologist back front line and center again.

Couple that with the increasing demand for anti-aging treatments and it seems that there is still scope for growth in this field.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that there would be around about a 14% increase across the nation when it came to posts for surgeons and physicians between 2014 and 2024.

This growth rate exceeds that of all other occupations, implying that the medical profession is still one of the top professions when it comes to growing industries.

With people becoming more health conscious, it is conceivable that they might start to take preventative measures against skin diseases earlier in life, including scanning for cancers.

The key would be to properly educate your patients about the risk and to encourage them to come in for regular checkups.

Career Options

There are a number of different paths that a career as a dermatologist can take. Do you want to head up your own practice, or are you happier working for someone else? Are you interested in heading into academia and becoming a researcher or a teacher instead of a practicing doctor?

There is a fair amount of scope when it comes to a career in dermatology, and that is part of what makes it so rewarding.

How to Become a Dermatologist


The first step is to obtain your bachelor’s degree. You will need to take courses in Math, English, Chemistry – both organic and inorganic, biology and physics.


Once this is done, you will need to go to medical school and study the physiology and anatomy of humans, pathology, microbiology, ethics, etc.


For the final two years of study, you will be required to work in a hospital, learning to apply your theoretical knowledge in practice with the guidance of qualified doctors.


Once you have graduated, you will need to undergo an internship of a year and then a three-year residency to complete your training and to further practice your newly learned skills.


Once that is complete, you will need to sit for the state-licensing exam. If you pass this exam, you will then need to be certified by the American Board of Dermatology.


If you are planning to open your own practice, it would also be wise to consider a basic course in business management. While not a requirement for you to become qualified, it will stand you in good stead if you do decide to open your own practice. A practice is a business – there will be the admin to take care of, staff to hire and manage, and, most importantly, business to attract. This becomes a lot easier if you understand the basics of business administration and marketing, to begin with.

Becoming a dermatologist is not easy. You are studying to become a medical doctor, after all. It is important, before you commit yourself to this course, that you ensure that it is what you really want to do.

Do you have the required skills to be a great dermatologist? Will you be able to handle the coursework while qualifying? What about the residency?

It is a substantial commitment of time and effort, but it can lead to a very rewarding career. A dermatologist deals with a varied range of patients, and so there is little chance that your career will be boring.

That said, it does require dedication. As we have said before, you will often have to go beyond the obvious and find symptoms and signs that are very easily missed. You have to be great at paying attention to detail and very patient so that you can figure out what is going on.

Do you have what it takes?


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