How to Become a Dermatologist (Duties, Salary and Steps)

Hint: It pays well. REALLY well.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

How to become a dermatologist

Dermatologists specialize in the health of your skin, hair and nails. It’s a branch of medicine that is important and valued because of the visible results of effective dermatology.

If you have a passion for skincare and love looking after people, then becoming a dermatologist could be the perfect career for you. As is the case with many careers in medicine, a lot of training and education is needed to get started, so read on for tips on how to become a dermatologist, as well as plenty of information about the role.

What is a dermatologist?

Dermatologists are medical doctors that focus on skin conditions, as well as the health of hair and nails. They are experts in treating and advising on skin, nail and hair conditions, from small issues like acne to more serious concerns like skin cancer. Some dermatologists will also focus on cosmetic dermatology.

What are the different types of dermatologists?

A career in dermatology can take many different forms and can offer plenty of progression. Here are four main types of dermatologists, and a brief introduction to what they do:

  • Cosmetic dermatologists focus on improving the appearance of skin, nails and hair, specializing in aesthetic or restorative care.
  • Dermatopathologists undertake focused diagnostics of skin, using techniques and equipment such as microscopes to analyze cells and deeper layers of the skin to diagnose conditions.
  • Medical dermatologists are a common type of dermatologist, assessing skin, hair and nails, diagnosing conditions, and treating them accordingly.
  • Surgical dermatologists are qualified to perform surgical procedures such as Mohs Surgery to diagnose and treat skin, hair and nail conditions.

What do dermatologists do?

Whereas the duties of a dermatologist might depend on the type of dermatologist role, the career has several core responsibilities. In this section, we will briefly review these responsibilities:

  • Educating patients on skincare routines and advice regarding hair and nail care
  • Analyzing symptoms and providing guidance as to what the underlying skin, hair and nail conditions might be
  • Liaising with other healthcare professionals, and seeking advice or support from other areas of medicine as required
  • Providing practical care for skin, nails and hair to prevent conditions from occurring
  • Recommending and undertaking treatments to alleviate diagnosed conditions

What is their workplace?

Dermatologists might work in a variety of settings, but will primarily be based in clinics or healthcare institutions such as hospitals or even spas. The role will require some office work, where patients are assessed and paperwork completed.

Dermatologists can expect to work 40 hours a week, with some flexible hours such as early or late shifts being required, especially if they work in a hospital.

Dermatologist roles can be stressful and pressurized due to the need for urgent care, patient concerns, and the requirement for timely treatment and swift pace of work.

How much do they earn?

Dermatologists are qualified healthcare professionals with a nuanced and technical skill set, and they are therefore paid above-average salaries compared to the overall US job market.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey, the mean annual salary for dermatologists is $342,860 ($164.84 per hour).

The states of Minnesota and Idaho are among the highest-paying for dermatologists in the US, where annual salaries average $581,560 and $525,040, respectively.

What is the job outlook for dermatologists?

There is a high demand for dermatologists due to the increased interest in skincare and high demand for skin treatments, both from a medical and cosmetic point of view. An aging workforce also increases the need for more dermatologists.

According to BLS data, there were 12,400 dermatologists in 2022. This number is expected to increase by 400 to 12,800 in 2032, an increase of 3.1%.

Almost 95% of dermatologists (11,800) are employed on wage and salary contracts, this number being expected to grow by 400 to 12,200 in 2032, an increase of 3.6%.  The remaining 5% of dermatologists are self-employed, with this number expected to reduce by 6.9% by 2032, but remain numerically flat, at around 600 self-employed workers.

What are the entry requirements?

Becoming a dermatologist requires a lot of preparation and understanding of the skills needed to execute the role effectively. Here’s what you need to get started as a dermatologist:


Dermatologists will need good grades in high school to get into college or university to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Following this, you’ll need to undertake at least four years of medical school where you can complete more specific education and work towards licensure.

Skills and qualities

Dermatologists need to have patience, understanding and empathy to treat skin conditions, as well as a passion for what they do. Additionally, the following skill set is essential:

Training, licensing and certification

Dermatologists need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination to become licensed, and then undertake residency training. With time, you can work towards American Board of Dermatology or American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology certification.

Do you have what it takes?

Like many doctors, dermatologists need to have a passion for healthcare and helping people to truly enjoy what they do. Having an interest in skincare and skin health is also important to embrace dermatology and give people the best advice. You can make a great career out of dermatology, so being eager to learn more and develop yourself is also essential.

If you’re wondering what to do with your skills, values and interests, but are not sure where to start, consider taking CareerHunter’s six-stage assessment. Crafted by organizational psychologists, it maps out your career goals, interests and skills to various career paths, giving you some great tips on finding the dream role for you.

5 steps to become a dermatologist

So, if you have made it this far and still feel that becoming a dermatologist is your personal career goal, then read on for five steps that you should prepare for and follow for this career dream to become a reality.

1. Get a bachelor’s degree

The journey to become a dermatologist involves attending medical school, and a bachelor’s degree is required to do this.

Whereas there’s no set bachelor’s degree that is needed for entry into medical school, a science major such as life sciences or chemistry is advisable, with a focus on pre-med coursework (such as mathematics, physics or biology) or similar electives.

Strong grades are essential for medical school, so ensure you put in the hard work early, and carefully select a good college or university to help you along the way.

2. Attend medical school

The Medical College Admissions Test assesses your problem-solving and scientific abilities and is the gateway to your acceptance into medical school. Here, you’ll aim towards a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree.

Schools of medicine take at least four years and involve classroom studies, exams and practical, clinical rotations in various disciplines, which might specifically include dermatology.

Completing medical school will result in you obtaining a medical license, but you will need to pass either the USMLE or the COMLEX-USA to do this.

3. Complete residency training

After medical school, prospective dermatologists need to complete a residency program that lasts three to four years, the first year of which is usually an internship in general internal medicine. After this, there will be a focused multi-year dermatology residency.

Residencies can be competitive to get into, so you’ll need to have a strong application and supporting paperwork such as a portfolio and résumé.

During this residency, you’ll start to learn the practical skills needed for a career in dermatology, such as diagnosing and caring for skin disorders. These residency programs will also give you the opportunity to get involved in research projects and academic projects.

4. Gain state licensure

State licensure is essential in order to become a working dermatologist. Licensing requirements will vary by state but will likely have minimum educational requirements and passing either the USMLE or COMLEX-USA, as well as residency, age and criminal background check requirements.

It is, therefore, important to research what is needed to become licensed in your location. Many states will accept other state licensures if they meet minimum local requirements.

5. Complete board certification and professional development

Becoming board-certified isn’t mandatory, but it’s highly recommended to forge a successful career in dermatology, as it demonstrates your proficiency and expertise in dermatology.

Dermatologists are certified by either the ABD or the AOBD. This will require passing board examinations and coursework.

You can also consider further development, such as pursuing fellowships in dermatological specialisms like pediatric dermatology, cosmetic dermatology or dermatopathology.

Final thoughts

Becoming a dermatologist is a responsible and rewarding job that requires a lot of investment to get trained and get started in. Consequently, ensure you research the career and check that it aligns with your goals, skills and interests before you choose to pursue it.

Once you complete your training and accreditation, dermatology can prove to be a flexible and interesting branch of medicine that can provide plenty of career progression and development, especially if you have a vested interest in great skincare and a passion for people’s health.

Are you thinking about becoming a dermatologist? Let us know in the comments section below.