A career guide on how to become a dermatologist

Last updated: July 23, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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A career guide on how to become a dermatologist
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Are you passionate about helping people take care of their skin? Can you picture yourself diagnosing, treating, and managing a wide range of skin conditions related to the integumentary system? If so, then a career as a dermatologist could be for you!

This guide covers everything you need to know about becoming a dermatologist in 2023. We'll start by discussing what a dermatologist is and their daily job duties. Then, we'll discuss the skills needed to excel as a dermatologist before diving into the education and training requirements.

What is a dermatologist?

A dermatologist is a licensed medical doctor that specializes in diagnosing and treating skin conditions. Dermatologists are often referred to as skin care specialists and they treat a wide array of issues related to the integumentary system.

This includes issues like acne and eczema, infections from viruses or fungi, allergic reactions that appear on the skin, and even cancer.

Dermatologists diagnose and treat skin diseases using a combination of medical knowledge, cutting-edge technology, and hands-on experience.

They typically work in private practice, internal medicine, or as part of a group practice with other specialists, such as primary care physicians and allergist. They also refer patients to other medical care professionals for further treatment when needed.

In 2019 alone, there were 12,516 licensed dermatologists in the U.S., highlighting the importance of this field and the continued need for skilled practitioners.

In addition to skin conditions, these medical professionals are knowledgeable in protecting skin from the sun, improving nutrition, and providing treatments like laser and injectable treatments for wrinkles, scars, hair loss, and more. They may also help patients manage chronic conditions like psoriasis or eczema.

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Dermatology teams also include specialists in cosmetic dermatology, such as surgeons and plastic surgeons for reconstructive surgery. These professionals may use laser treatments, fillers, and injectables for cosmetic purposes.

Daily job duties of a dermatologist

A dermatologist's daily responsibilities can vary depending on their area of expertise, practice setting, and patient caseload. Some of their main duties include the following:

Assessing and diagnosing skin conditions

One of the primary roles of a dermatologist is to assess and diagnose skin conditions. This involves conducting physical exams and analyzing medical imaging to determine the type and severity of a condition.

Dermatologists may also take tissue samples for further testing or to identify the condition's cause.

Performing procedures and treatments

Dermatologists can perform various procedures and treatments, such as biopsies, cryosurgery, electrosurgery, or laser therapy, to treat moles, warts, or other lesions. They may also provide advice on protecting skin from sun damage and aging.

Additionally, dermatologists may perform aesthetic procedures, such as laser treatments, chemical peels, and cosmetic injections.

Providing patient consultations

Dermatologists also meet with their patients to discuss treatment options. This includes educating them on proper skin care, nutrition, and general health habits. They will often address patients' questions or concerns about their skin conditions during these consultations.

The patient consultation stage is usually when a dermatologist performs a full body skin check to catch any potential signs of skin cancer.

Monitoring patient progress and adjusting treatments

Dermatologists may monitor the progress of ongoing treatments and make adjustments as needed to ensure the best possible results for each patient.

They may also recommend lifestyle changes or refer patients to other medical professionals for further evaluation. This may involve ordering additional tests or treatments to address the patient's skin condition.

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Working as a dermatologist is both physically and mentally demanding, but it is also very rewarding. These professionals provide patients with personalized care and effective treatments to help improve their quality of life.

Skills that will help you excel as a dermatologist

There is a selection of hard and soft skills that will help you if you choose a career as a dermatologist. As with any medical profession, it is important to maintain a strong knowledge base and stay up to date on the latest treatments and technologies. The following additional skills will also be beneficial:

Communication skills

Dermatologists must have excellent communication skills to explain diagnoses and treatment plans, answer patients' and their families' questions, and provide educational materials. It is crucial to be able to listen carefully and explain medical terminology clearly and concisely.

Attention to detail

Dermatologists must be able to pay close attention to detail to accurately diagnose skin conditions and develop effective treatment plans for patients. They must also be able to recognize any potential signs of skin cancer and other diseases to provide the best care possible.

Analytical skills

This field requires strong analytical skills to interpret medical imaging and tissue samples and assess treatments' effectiveness. Dermatologists must also be able to quickly evaluate patients' health and determine the best course of action.

Problem-solving abilities

Dermatologists must be able to think critically and find solutions for any issues that arise during treatment. A lack of problem-solving skills leads to a greater risk of misdiagnosis or ineffective treatments.

Technical skills

Another important skill for dermatologists is the ability to use medical equipment, software, and other technologies efficiently. This includes lasers and light-based devices for aesthetic treatments as well as diagnostic tools such as microscopes.


Empathy involves understanding patients' emotions and experiences, being sensitive to their needs, and providing them care with kindness and respect. This skill is key in not only dermatology but the entire medical field.

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These are just a few skills of the many that can help you succeed as a dermatologist. You can develop them through experience and practice, but a strong work ethic and love for helping people are fundamental.

In the end, a dermatologist's success depends on their commitment to providing quality care and having a true passion for the field. With the combination of knowledge, experience, and the right skills, you will be well on your way to a rewarding career.

How to become a dermatologist: education and training

Once you know a career in dermatology is right for you, it's time to start preparing for your journey.

Becoming a dermatologist requires numerous years of education and training. Here are the steps you'll need to take:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree

The first step on your path to starting a career as a dermatologist is earning a bachelor's degree. While no exact major is required, taking courses in the sciences, such as biology, chemistry, and anatomy, is important. You should also take classes in mathematics and English to enhance your communication skills.

Choosing a major that will help you get accepted into medical school is crucial. That's why some aspiring dermatologist students major in pre-med or biochemistry.

  1. Take the MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is an exam that assesses your knowledge and skills in science, critical thinking, and problem-solving. It is required for admission to most medical schools, so preparing ahead of time is important.

There are different options to choose from when studying for the MCAT, such as online courses and practice tests. This will help you become familiar with the exam format and understand what types of questions you can expect.

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It's common for students to study for months or even a year before taking the MCAT, so don't feel as though you need to rush the process. Take your time to ensure you're comfortable with the material before taking the test.

  1. Attend medical school

The next step to becoming a dermatologist is to attend medical school, which can take anywhere from four to seven years, depending on the program. During medical school, students learn about anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, pathology, diagnostics, and more. You'll also have a chance to get hands-on experience with patients in clinical settings.

Most medical schools offer dual degree programs that allow you to pursue a specialty in dermatology. These programs usually include additional coursework and clinical training to prepare you for the field.

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Medical school can be stressful, but it's important to remember that it is a valuable investment in your future. Taking the time to learn as much as possible will help guarantee your future success as a dermatologist.

  1. Complete a residency

Once you graduate from medical school, you must complete a residency program in dermatology to become a practicing dermatologist. This is usually a three-year program in which you gain experience working with patients and other healthcare professionals.

During your residency, you'll learn about the latest treatments and technologies, improve your diagnostic skills, and make decisions that affect patient care. You'll also gain experience in performing procedures, such as laser treatments and skin biopsies.

Residencies typically take place in a hospital or clinic, and you may have the opportunity to gain more specialized experience if you choose to complete a fellowship. Some dermatology residency programs even offer research opportunities.

  1. Pass the board exam

The final step in becoming a practicing dermatologist is passing the American Board of Dermatology certification exam. This comprehensive test covers all aspects of dermatology, including diagnosis and treatment. It incorporates both multiple-choice and short-answer questions to test your knowledge and skills.

Before you can sit for the exam, you must apply to the American Board of Dermatology and meet all their requirements. This includes having a valid license, completing a residency program in dermatology, and submitting documentation of your work experience.

Studying for this exam can be daunting, so it's important to give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Resources such as practice exams and review books can help you prepare for it.

  1. Build a resume and apply for jobs

Once you've completed your training, it's time to start looking for a job. One of the first steps to take is to update your resume and format it for the healthcare field.

Make sure to include your education, certifications, and experience, and you should also highlight any specialty training you have had. Include any awards or recognitions you've received that demonstrate your commitment to the field. Additionally, keywords related to the specific position can help your resume stand out in job searches.

You can then begin searching for job openings in your area or look into job postings online. Networking with other professionals in the field can also help you find positions.

You can fulfill your dreams of becoming a successful dermatologist with hard work, dedication, and perseverance.

Average salary and demand for dermatologists

Dermatology is a lucrative field, with an average annual salary of $302,740 or $145.55 per hour. While salary can vary depending on experience, location, and type of practice, many dermatologists can expect to earn an income well above the national average.

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The demand for dermatologists is also steadily increasing; 23,800 openings for physicians and surgeons are projected from 2021–2031. This reflects a 3% growth rate, which, while lower than the average, reflects the steady demand for dermatologists in many parts of the U.S.

These statistics make becoming a dermatologist an excellent option for those seeking a rewarding, in-demand career. With the right combination of education, training, and dedication, you can join this field of experts and make a difference in patients' lives.

Start your journey to becoming a dermatologist

The road to becoming a dermatologist is long but rewarding. You'll need to complete all the steps — from undergraduate education to residency and beyond — to succeed in this field.

Take time with the process, and don't rush through preparing for exams or job applications. If you need additional support, check out the Getting Hired Resource Center. There, you can find more tips on building a resume, preparing for the board certification exam, and finding job openings.



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