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Dermatologists are physicians who treat conditions related to the skin, though they may also treat disorders related to the hair and nails. Dermatologists undergo additional specialized training beyond receiving a medical degree to become experts in skincare, and they must also obtain a license to practice. Some dermatologists choose to further specialize in the field by concentrating their work in pediatric dermatology, dermatopathology or procedural dermatology. While precise responsibilities are contingent upon the subspecialty of dermatology, most dermatologists have similar duties.
Patients may choose to visit a dermatologist on their own or as the result of a referral from their general physician. Dermatologists spend a great deal of time conducting consultations with patients as a first step toward developing diagnoses and treatment plans for their ailments. A consultation may involve taking down a patient's medical history, performing a general physical exam and discussing a patient's concerns involving his skin.
Performing Dermatological Screenings
Dermatological screenings involve checking the body for visible symptoms, suspicious lesions and potentially problematic areas. Dermatologists may go over the skin using a series of lights to check for cancerous or pre-cancerous moles, melanomas or tumors, as well as eczema patches and other abnormalities. They may also feel a patient's lymph nodes to check for any suspicious lumps or swelling. Routine dermatological screenings are recommended for everyone, so dermatologists can expect to regularly perform such inspections in their work.
Performing Diagnostic Tests
In some cases, looking at a patient's obvious visible symptoms is not enough for a dermatologist to make an accurate diagnosis. For example, a mole that may appear normal in color and size could be hiding pre-cancerous cells beneath the surface. To ensure that a patient receives the highest quality of care and an effective treatment plan, dermatologists conduct diagnostic tests on skin samples. These could include biopsies, for example, to determine if cancer cells are present.
Performing Dermatological Procedures
Part of a dermatologist's training includes learning to perform minor surgical procedures related to the skin. This includes removing moles, warts, melanomas and other topical abnormalities. Typically, such procedures are performed in-office under a local anesthetic. Noninvasive procedures dermatologists perform include administering injections to treat conditions internally, such as cortisone injections for the treatment of cystic acne.
Some skin conditions can be treated through the application of topical medications, while others require internal treatment administered through an oral medication or injection. Dermatologists figure out the best course of treatment for each patient and routinely prescribe medications as needed. These could include topical lotions for the treatment of eczema or oral medications in pill form for the treatment of acne.
Providing Patient Education
Since dermatologists are experts in their field, part of their job is educating patients in how to manage their conditions and best care for their skin, hair and nails. A dermatologist may make dietary recommendations to alleviate a patient's symptoms or answer questions about the overall prognosis for a diagnosis she has made. She might recommend anti-aging or moisturizing products, or teach patients about such matters as the importance of wearing sunscreen to help prevent cancer.