How to Become a Dermatologist

How to Become a Dermatologist

Dermatologists help patients with the diagnosis and treatment of skin, hair, nails, and mucous membranes. They can remove or heal blemishes such as birth marks or acne, and they can help with more serious conditions such as skin cancer, and they can also perform skin grafting techniques to help burn victims. Dermatologists not only help treat physical conditions of the skin, they also help with the emotional ones as well. Acne treatments and Botox injections can help people mentally deal with their skin issues.

What do Dermatologists do?

According to the American Academic of Dermatology, dermatologists diagnose and treat over 3000 diseases of the skin, hair, and nails. Some of these diseases include acne, eczema, psoriasis, and skin cancer as well as many other skin diseases. Since a person’s skin is so visible, it is often a source of self esteem. Because of this, dermatologists focus a lot of their time to helping patients learn and practice preventative measures in order to keep their skin and nails looking healthy. Some regular practices that dermatologists employ are:

  • Help improve the patient’s skin by removing growths, discoloration, and wrinkles
  • Inform and prescribe medication to patients to help prevent acne and acne scars
  • Perform a biopsy to confirm diagnosis of diseases
  • Perform laser and light therapies that reduce the discoloration of skin

Work Environment

Dermatologists generally work in a medical practice or clinic. Some may work in a hospital or in an academic setting. Work hours are generally during normal business hours, Monday through Friday. It is said that Dermatologists enjoy a much more relaxed working schedule than other doctors. It is common for a dermatologist to work only 30-35 hours per week. They are also not on their feet as long as other doctors such as surgeons.


Salaries for dermatologists are among the highest for all medical doctors. Pay can vary according to the type of practice they work in and whether or not they are specialty dermatologists. Pay can range from $100,000 to $500,000 per year.

Entry Level (0-5 yrs): $194,000

Mid Career (5-10 yrs): $206,000

Experienced (10-20 yrs): $215,000

Source: Payscale

Education and Training

For those that aspire to become a dermatologist, your preparation should start now. It is extremely important to do very well in school as becoming a dermatologist is competitive. One must obtain their bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, and they should major in the hard sciences such as biology, chemistry, or in specific pre-medical courses. Getting into any medical school in the United States is difficult, so make sure your GPA is high as well as the combined GPA of your science courses, as they are calculated separately on your medical school application.


The MCAT is the entrance exam for medical schools all across the United States. The MCAT is a rigorous test that features three multiple choice sections. The test scores range from 3 to 45 with the top medical schools generally accepting scores in the mid 30s. It is common for students to study for months and even to take the MCAT two or three times before they are accepted into a medical school. For more information about preparing for the MCAT, visit the AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) website. They have a trough of information about what materials to use while studying for the MCAT, when and where the test will take place, and a breakdown of the section scores.

Medical School

All medical doctors, regardless of specialty, go to the same medical schools. There are over 140 accredited medical schools in America, and while they are ranked, the medical school you go to doesn’t affect your ability to obtain residency and employment so much as which law or business school you attended. However, it is still difficult to gain admission into medical school and  they are very competitive as well. Some students, who are finding it difficult to obtain admission into American medical schools because of their grades or test scores, are opting to go to medical schools in the Caribbean. While it is a gamble to go to a non-American medical school, many of these students are obtaining residencies in America and are going on to become successful doctors in the states.

Medical school is usually four years of rigorous study. There are some schools around the country that offer a combined bachelors and a medical degree program that takes only six years to matriculate as a MD, instead of eight years. In a traditional program, the first year you take your basic courses, and you go on rotations where you will eventually decide on your medical specialty. Rotations are simply like a round of short internships in different areas of the medical field so that medical students can get a feel for which specialty they would prefer to practice in. Then you spend the remaining years in medical school learning about the field that you selected. In this case, one would chose to learn about dermatology if they wanted to successfully obtain a dermatology residency. When they graduate it is said that they have matriculated to MD.


In order for MDs to become doctors in their specialty, they must go through a post medical school residency. In a residency, a MD works underneath the supervision of a doctor for a certain amount of years. Dermatology residencies are usually three years, and dermatologist residents have to spend a majority of their time caring for patients. Dermatology residents usually make about $50,000 or less per year, but with a salary that low, they are usually able to defer their medical school loan debt until they obtain doctor level salaries.


After the successful completion of a dermatology residency, MDs are now ready to become board certified. One becomes board certified by passing the board, which simply means passing the certification examination given by the American Board of Dermatology, American Osteopathic Association, or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. There may be some other requirements prior to certification as well, and they will be listed on the American Board of Dermatology’s website.

Source: American Board of Dermatology

Continuous Learning

Dermatologists once were able to pass the board only once and keep their licensure for a lifetime. Now, thanks to the rapid changes in technology, dermatologists are required to pass the board once every 10 years. Many dermatologists do this more often in order to stay on top of new technologies and current trends in the field of dermatology. Dermatologists also stay up to date on new technology and advancements in their field by reading and contributing to medical journals, going to conferences, and attending medical courses.

Employment Prospects

The average job growth for dermatologists is expected to be 24% from 2010 to 2020 which is an above average growth for all jobs. With this field growing at a fairly fast pace, and with the working conditions of a dermatologist being so much more pleasant than other doctor’s working conditions, choosing a career as a dermatologist seems to be a good choice.

Source: Diploma Guide

Medical school in the United States is very expensive, with some students graduating with over a quarter million dollars in debt. There are some scholarship programs, but most students cover their tuition with student loans. It is really important to consider the large student loan debt that you will incur before applying to medical school. For more information and for support on applying to, attending, and becoming a dermatologist, check out the Student Doctor Network. It’s a forum dedicated to students and doctors helping those who want to break into the medical field as a doctor.

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