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How to Become a Dermatologist

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Dermatologists are doctors who treat conditions that affect the skin, nails and hair. They diagnose and treat genetic skin disorders, diseases such as acne and skin and nail cancer, and cosmetic reactions. Aspiring dermatologists must attend medical school, complete a dermatology residency program and obtain a license to work in their states.

Getting Educated

Like most physicians, dermatologists must spend a minimum of 11 years in school. The path begins in undergraduate school where prospective dermatologists must complete a bachelor's degree in physics, biology, math, chemistry or a related field. The next hurdle is to pass the Medical College Admission Test, enroll in medical school and earn either a doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathic medicine degree. To qualify as dermatologists, doctors must complete an internship followed by a three-year dermatology residency that covers topics such as dermatopathology, pediatric dermatology, general dermatology and laser and cosmetic procedures. Residency programs must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

Mastering the Skills

Dermatologists must be detail-oriented and have strong manual dexterity skills. When assessing a patient who is suffering from sun damage, for example, they must effectively use ultraviolet cameras and laser equipment to observe and accurately identify the condition’s effects on the skin. Dermatologists also need good problem-solving skills to evaluate clients’ symptoms and provide suitable treatments, and organizational skills to maintain accurate client records. Patience, compassion and empathy are also essential competencies for dermatologists.

Getting Licensed and Certified

Dermatologists must secure a state-issued license before joining a practice. Although licensing requirements vary from state to state, licensees typically must have completed medical school and dermatology residency training, and passed practical and written examinations. Dermatologists can also obtain a certification from the American Board of Dermatology to improve their job prospects. Certification requirements include possessing an unrestricted license and passing an examination. Applicants are only eligible for the certification within five years of completing residency training.

Finding Employment

Licensed dermatologists can secure jobs in general medical and surgical hospitals, outpatient care centers and offices of physicians. Those who are looking to be self-employed can start dermatology clinics or skincare consulting firms. These businesses must be licensed. Dermatologists can specialize in cosmetic, pediatric or procedural dermatology by completing a one-year fellowship program in these fields. Dermatologists who earn a Ph.D. in dermatology can be hired by medical schools as instructors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all physicians and surgeons, including dermatologists, earned an average annual wage of $187,200 in 2013.


Based in New York City, Alison Green has been writing professionally on career topics for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in “U.S. News Weekly” magazine, “The Career” magazine and “Human Resources Journal.” Green holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.

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