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How To Become A Dermatologist

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Are you interested in helping people maintain healthy skin? If this sounds like you, then a career in dermatology might be the perfect choice. Working as a dermatologist, you will diagnose and treat skin conditions while also helping your patients to look and feel their best. Read on to find out more about what a dermatologist does, how you can become one, and whether a career in dermatology is right for you. 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.

Dermatologists are doctors who specialize in treating medical conditions related to skin, hair, and nails. Patients seek out dermatologists to get help with health conditions that raise cosmetic concerns such as a rash or treat diseases such as skin cancer. Since the skin is one of the largest vital organs of the human body, comprising a total area of about 22 square feet, being a dermatologist means playing a pivotal role in caring for the organ in charge preventing pathogens from entering the body, temperature regulation, and sensations of touch and temperature.  Along with other medical professions, dermatology is an in-demand medical specialty. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that physician and surgeon careers, a general title that includes dermatologists, are growing slower than the average rate of occupational growth and that between 2020 and 2030, 24,800 new positions are expected to be created nationally—a growth rate of three percent, which is lower than the national average (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2021).

Dermatologists have the choice of working in a variety of healthcare settings such as group practices, healthcare organizations, hospitals, academia, or outpatient clinics. As with all medical careers, becoming a dermatologist requires many years of schooling, medical residencies, and licensure examinations.

Those who want to specialize in a specific area of dermatology can anticipate an additional year of fellowship or residency training. The final credential for any medical doctor is board certification and for dermatology, this requires ongoing medical education and recertification every ten years. Read on to learn more about what it takes to become a dermatologist, including details about typical education, experience, and credentialing. 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.

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.



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. They also specialize in skin appendages, such as hair and nails. These physicians are also responsible for helping patients with the improvement of their physical appearance as it relates to the skin, hair and nails; for example, lessening the appearance of 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 as 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. Dermatologists may also conduct research, teach educational courses in academia or complete scientific case studies into common medical issues plaguing the dermatological community.

Duties A Dermatologist Perform

Duties Dermatologists Perform Include:

Meeting with patients to assess issues with skin, hair or nails: They record patients’ medical histories, examine patients, observe abnormalities and discuss diagnoses. This also can involve testing problem areas, which can include using a tool called a dermatoscope or taking a skin biopsy.

Developing treatment plans for patients: Depending on the diagnosis, dermatologists may prescribe medications, remove abnormalities like warts or perform surgery to remove issues like moles.

Addressing cosmetic concerns like aging and birthmarks: Dermatologists use tools like lasers to treat birthmarks and Botox to address wrinkles, as well as skin grafting to help patients with serious scarring.

Performing follow-up examinations or treatments: Many dermatology treatments require multiple sessions to resolve, and dermatologists track patient progress to determine how best to continue to address patients’ concerns.

How dermatologists differ from other medical professionals

The American Academy of Dermatology states that dermatologists specialize in conditions related to skin, hair and nails. There are more than 3,000 conditions that a dermatologist can treat.

Some of these conditions are cosmetic, like acne or a birthmark, while others could pose major threats to an individual’s health, like skin cancer. Dermatologists can also detect underlying conditions that have to do with other parts of the body but where the symptoms show up in the skin, hair or nails, like impaired liver function and pancreatic cancer.

To get the extensive training needed to treat such a range of conditions, dermatologists go through a three-year minimum residency and a one-year internship after graduating medical school. It’s a long road but it can be rewarding both financially and professionally, including when considering they’re helping patients live longer, higher-quality lives.

Once dermatologists are done with their training, they can either take a private practice track or an academic track in their career.

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.

What do Dermatologists do?

Dermatologists are trained to provide medical, surgical and cosmetic services that involve the skin. The types of procedures they choose to provide is dependent upon each individual Dermatologist’s mode of patient practice. Of course, this is influenced by any additional subspecialty training they may have obtained during fellowship. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common reasons why a person would see a Dermatologist include treatments for:

  • Acne or skin blemishes
  • Rashes on the skin
  • Discoloration of the skin
  • Lesions on the skin

Other common conditions that Dermatologists see patients for include:

  • Skin cancer
  • Hair loss
  • Infections of the skin
  • Fingernail or Toenail problems
  • Inflammatory skin conditions such as Eczema and Psoriasis

Dermatology procedures

Dermatologists also carry out a variety of procedures, such as:

  • Biopsies: Dermatologists perform different biopsy procedures to diagnose or rule out conditions, such as skin cancer.
  • Chemical peels: This treatment removes damaged skin, rejuvenates new skin and reduces the signs of aging.
  • Cosmetic injections: Dermatologists use cosmetic injections such as fillers or Botox injections to help reduce the appearance of sagging skin and wrinkles
  • Cryotherapy: A treatment for certain skin conditions such as certain tumors, warts, and skin tags.
  • Dermabrasion: A dermatologist uses this exfoliating procedure to reduce the appearance of age spots, fine lines, precancerous skin patches, and acne scars.
  • Laser therapy: Laser therapy can be used to remove moles, warts, tattoos, sun spots, blemishes, acne scars, unwanted hair, or wrinkles.
  • Mohs surgery: Dermatologists use this type of skin cancer surgery to remove thin layers of tissue around a tumor while looking for signs of other cancer cells.
  • Sclerotherapy: Dermatologists use sclerotherapy to treat varicose veins by injecting chemicals into damaged veins.
  • Surgical excision: A dermatologist performs a surgical excision to remove growths like lesions, moles, and skin tags.
  • Tumescent liposuction: The removal of unwanted fat from certain areas of the patient’s body.

Do Dermatologists do surgery?

All Dermatologists are trained to do basic surgery on the skin. Surgeries can be minor, such as doing skin biopsies or removing warts and moles. Dermatologists also perform more advanced surgeries requiring anesthesia and post operative care. Many Dermatologists obtain additional training to perform advanced skin surgery such as Mohs surgery.

Academic Dermatologist vs. Private Practice Dermatologist

Most dermatologists, about 75%, work for either a solo or group private practice. Private practice dermatologists typically work normal business hours and can often be an owner in the practice. They also tend to make more money and have more job flexibility and higher quality of life than their academic counterparts.

Academic dermatologists work for a health system or hospital with a residency program. They can work either directly or as a part of a group within those employers. Some dermatology positions are centered around research and teaching. This track can require being on call, completing challenging research requirements, and accepting less pay than if they were in private practice.

Where do dermatologists work?

As medical professionals, dermatologists work in physicians’ offices. They meet with patients in examination rooms and perform procedures in treatment rooms. They use computers and tablets to update patient records, research procedures and develop treatment plans in their offices. Some dermatologists own and operate private practices, while others work for health care groups or hospitals.

Dermatologist daily job responsibilities

Some of the daily responsibilities for a dermatologist include:

Seeing patients

Dermatologists see patients on most days. Patients make appointments with a dermatologist throughout the day so that the dermatologist spends most of their day on patient care. These appointments consist of diagnosing patient conditions, listening to patient concerns and prescribing treatments. On some days, dermatologists may perform procedures on patients that take longer than a typical appointment, which results in seeing fewer patients that day.

After each patient meeting, the dermatologist updates their medical files. This includes any conditions the patient suffers from along with any prescribed treatments from the dermatologist. The purpose of updating medical files is to ensure future medical professionals have the most accurate information when working with this patient.

Administrative duties

Throughout the day, dermatologists may have a few administrative tasks. If the dermatologist has their own private practice, these could include reviewing finances for the practice or personnel decisions. For example, a dermatologist may need to create schedules for their staff or at least assign that task to someone. In other settings, a dermatologist may spend part of their day on other administrative tasks, such as filing patient records or ordering laboratory tests.

Conducting research

Some dermatologists work as researchers rather than primarily with patients. In this scenario, a dermatologist may spend much of their day conducting research. This includes reading previous studies or conducting their own experiments. However, even dermatologists who work primarily with patients may spend part of their day conducting research, staying current on the latest treatment methods in their field.

Skills for a dermatologist

Dermatologists use the following skills during a typical workday:


Dermatologists spend much of their day communicating with patients. They use their communication skills to listen to patient concerns and understand their issues. They also use their communication skills to explain complex topics to their patients or help them understand their different treatment options. Finally, the last way dermatologists use their communication skills is with other medical professionals, using both verbal and written forms of communication to discuss patient care and facility management.

Time management

A dermatologist may have dozens of patients to see in a single day. They use their time management skills to ensure they spend an adequate amount of time with each patient and to see as many patients as possible. Dermatologists also schedule time for their other tasks, such as administrative duties or taking a lunch break. It’s important for dermatologists to manage their time well to ensure that patients do not need to reschedule their appointments and that the dermatologist can provide timely assistance to pressing medical issues.

Attention to detail

Dermatologists pay attention to details when recording patient information. Since future medical professionals may rely on the information within a patient’s file, it’s important that dermatologists keep accurate records. They also use their attention to detail skills when performing patient evaluations, ensuring they reach the correct diagnosis.


Dermatologists rely on their math skills when earning their degrees. Most dermatology programs include courses that involve math, such as pharmacology, chemistry and biology. During their careers, dermatologists also use their math skills when performing measurements and writing prescriptions.

How long does it take to become a Dermatologist?

On average, it takes at least 12 years of education and training after high school to become a licensed Dermatologist. This includes:

  • Undergraduate College Education: 4 years
  • Medical School: 4 years
  • Internship: 1 year
  • Residency: 3 years
  • Fellowship training (optional): 1+ years

Dermatologist Specializations And Degree Types

All dermatologists are board-certified physicians who have earned doctoral degrees in medicine. After earning board certification through the American Board of Dermatology, some dermatologists opt to further their medical training and specialize in a specific area of the discipline. The top three specializations for dermatology are: 

  • Dermatopathology: This specialization trains dermatologists to investigate biopsied skin tissues with a microscope to diagnose medical conditions, write up a written pathology report, determine the stage and severity of a condition, and make recommendations for treatment. 
  • Mohs surgery: A dermatologist trained in Mohs surgery treats patients with skin cancer. Mohs surgery focuses on the removal of cancerous tissues and a dermatologist trained as a Mohs surgeon can examine microscopic pieces of tissue under a microscope to ensure that cancerous tissues have been removed and healthy skin tissues remain. 
  • Pediatric dermatology: Trained in diseases that affect skin, hair, or nails in children, a pediatric dermatologist may help children with skin disorders that affect their senses such as a birthmark that interferes with sight.

Admissions Requirements for Dermatologist Programs

Undergraduate admissions requirements for pre-med programs typically include a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater) SAT and/or ACT scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. 

Medical school admissions are highly competitive and undergraduate students are advised to major in the sciences, pre-med, or a related degree and keep their grades high. If possible, earning a minor degree in the humanities or other disciplines unrelated to science is recommended, as is coursework in public health, healthcare economics, or business to help applicants show a diverse range of knowledge outside of the sciences. 

To further stand out on medical school applications, applicants are encouraged to volunteer or partake in clinical internships to demonstrate an interest in the profession. MCAT scores are also required for admission to medical school. To help medical school-bound students to search and compare medical schools, the Association of American Medical Colleges provides an online database called the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements).

For dermatology residency, admission requirements typically include a medical degree (MD) from an accredited university, a year of internship in dermatology, and for international applicants, TOEFL or IELTS test scores to demonstrate high levels of academic English proficiency.

Dermatologist Program Accreditation

When enrolling in any academic program, an important factor to research is a school’s accreditation status. Schools accredited at the national or programmatic level ensure students, future employers, and patients that a dermatologist’s education and training has met high peer-reviewed standards. 

Undergraduate institutions are typically accredited at the national level by a list of regional organizations listed on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website.

When researching medical schools, aspiring dermatologists can look to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC): an organization that accredits 154 medical colleges in the United States, as well as 400 teaching hospitals and government health systems such as the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

As for medical residencies, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) accredits medical residency training programs in the United States and Canada. In the 2019-2020 academic year, there were 144 ACGME-accredited dermatology residency programs and 1,595 on-duty residents.

On-Campus Dermatologist Degree Programs

Boston University

The Boston University School of Medicine offers two full-time degrees in dermatology: a two-year master of science and a four-year doctor of science degree. Students in this program are evaluated through exams, written assignments, and faculty evaluations. 

During clinical rotations, students are directly supervised by a faculty member who is responsible for assessing students’ abilities in examination skills, dermatology knowledge, and diagnosis, and written and verbal communication. Students in both programs are required to take the American Board of Dermatology (ABD) exam and an oral examination to test all aspects of dermatology. In the last two years, four-year students must complete and defend a written thesis. 

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Duration: Two to four years
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Tuition: $64,884 annually

Mayo Clinic

Medical school graduates looking for a dermatology fellowship in pediatrics can consider the one-year pediatric dermatology fellowship offered by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. This program emphasizes the advanced care of infants and children with severe skin diseases. 

In this program, fellows see patients four days per week and are responsible for a half-day rotation in a community clinic. Offering only one spot per year, fellows in this competitive program also take part in teaching and research opportunities as well as clinical practices. Upon successfully completing this program, fellows are eligible to take the certification exam offered by the American Board of Dermatology. Fellows earn a biweekly stipend and benefits. 

  • Location: Rochester, MN
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: American Board of Dermatology
  • Tuition: N/A

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

The dermatology residency at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is one of the largest programs in the country. Each year they accept between six to seven new residents for this three-year program. Residents are expected to complete their residency year prior to entering this program. Clinical rotations for this residency are primarily at the BJH Center for Outpatient Health and Washington University West County Dermatology. 

This program also offers a Physician Scientist Training Program (PSTP) that affords residents exceptional career development opportunities. This is a two-year program that is alongside the dermatology residency and it comes with an additional stipend. Rather than spending time with patients in clinical rotations, residents in this program can spend up to 80 percent of their time in a lab. 

  • Location: St. Louis, MO
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)
  • Tuition: N/A

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Residents in the dermatology program at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine become experts in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of the skin. This program offers residents various clinical rotations to broaden their skills. Locations where residents will rotate through include Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Pediatric Dermatology division, Greenspring Station Cosmetic Center, and Dermatopathology. 

During the second and third years of this program, residents are afforded a half-day a week exclusively for research. Alternatively, residents can complete a 2+2 program where the first two years are a typical dermatology residency and the second two years are dedicated to research. Residents who complete the research-centric program typically go on to work in laboratories rather than with patients. 

  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)
  • Tuition: N/A

Stanford University School of Medicine

The Stanford University School of Medicine dermatology residency affords residents a diverse training and educational experience. With over 15 clinics, hospitals, and labs for residents to rotate through and the most National Institute of Health funding in the nation, this residency exposes residents to cases, patient populations, and research they otherwise wouldn’t see. 

In addition, residents will rotate through 15 subspecialties to gain a comprehensive understanding of dermatology and prepare them for a fellowship, should they choose to continue their education.  

  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)
  • Tuition: N/A

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

There are three fellowship options in dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Fellowships are for physicians who have already completed an initial residency. Doctors can apply to complete a one-year fellowship in either cosmetic dermatology, Mohs micrographic and dermatology oncology, or dermatopathology. In order to be eligible for these fellowships, applicants must have completed a dermatology residency, except in the case of dermatopathology where they have the option of having a dermatology or pathology residency. 

These programs are highly competitive with only one or two fellows accepted each year. 

  • Location: Pittsburgh, PA
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)
  • Tuition: N/A

Online Dermatologist Related Education Programs

There are no online dermatology medical school programs. However, there are online post-baccalaureate programs that provide degree training for graduates with a bachelor’s degree who did not pursue a pre-med track. These programs typically take two years to complete and offer courses and academic advising to help students prepare for medical school coursework and clinical rotations. 

Dermatologists who have attained board certification have online options for continuing medical education (CME) credits. Two options are listed below. 

Colorado State University

Colorado State University offers online pre-med courses in a variety of general and specialty fields including general medicine. Courses can be taken to fulfill admissions requirements for medical school or taken as additional courses for those wanting to learn more about a specialty area such as pre-health genetics or gerontology. Students in this program have access to campus services to support adult learners, veterans, and academic advising. 

  • Location: Fort Collins, CO
  • Duration: Timeline varies
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $476 per credit

Drexel University

Drexel University offers a part-time, two-year pre-medical certificate program for students with non-science undergraduate degrees who want to pursue a health professions career. 

Designed with working students in mind, this program fulfills the prerequisite science courses required for admission by most medical schools, including dental, physician assistant, veterinary, or other health profession colleges. Taught by the Drexel College of Medicine faculty, this program also offers free MCAT preparation in the final semester. 

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Tuition: $1,018 per credit

American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD)

Board-certified dermatologists can complete some of their continuing medical education (CME) credits online through the American Academy of Dermatology Association. Doctors can choose from a variety of activities including online quizzes, journal article reading, and case challenges that all earn CMEs. 

In addition to these activities, doctors can listen to podcasts, attend live courses, and complete case challenges, all of which will count towards the required number of CMEs per year. The AAD tracks these activities for its members, making it easy to keep track of how many CMEs have been earned. 

  • Location: Rosemont, IL
  • Duration: Varies
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME)
  • Tuition: Varies based on the course

American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS)

Dermatologists who also perform surgery can join the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS). As a member, doctors can access ASDS Learn digital education. Offerings include podcasts, quizzes, conference recordings, live seminars, and step-by-step procedural reviews. There is even a virtual professor program with live and pre-recorded lectures on the latest innovations in dermatology surgery. ASDS Learn tracks the activities completed and assigns the appropriate CME to each event. 

  • Location: Fort Collins, CO
  • Duration: Varies
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME)
  • Tuition: $476 per credit