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Dermatologist Career Guide

What is a dermatologist?

A dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in treating health issues related to the skin, hair, and nails. These professionals contribute significantly to the health and well-being of patients by diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions, including acne, skin cancer, eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis. They also carry out cosmetic procedures like laser treatments, peels, and injectables to improve the appearance of the skin.

Their role is of great importance in both healthcare and esthetic industries, as they not only treat common and rare skin conditions but also help patients maintain the health and appearance of their skin, which can greatly affect their self-esteem and quality of life. Their expertise can contribute to the early detection of more serious underlying health issues, and they can help people manage chronic skin conditions effectively.

Duties and responsibilities

Dermatologists are responsible for diagnosing and treating various skin diseases and disorders. Their activities include conducting complete skin examinations, diagnosing skin conditions, and planning appropriate treatments. They perform dermatological procedures such as mole removal, biopsies, and the removal of warts, lesions, and skin cancer.

Another part of their job is to advise patients on the best ways to protect their skin from sun damage and other environmental factors. They also perform cosmetic skin procedures like botox injections, sclerotherapy for varicose veins, and laser treatments for various skin conditions. These professionals work with patients of all ages, from newborns to the elderly.

Work environment

A dermatologist spends a lot of time in direct patient care, either in private practice or in a hospital setting. They usually work in an office with medical equipment necessary for various dermatological procedures. Since dermatology often involves performing procedures, they may also regularly operate in surgical settings.

The work can be both mentally and physically demanding, as they may need to stand for long periods during procedures. Despite this, dermatology is often seen as less stressful than other specialties as it typically does not involve emergency cases. However, in situations where skin conditions are indicative of more serious health problems, these doctors may also work in high-stress environments.

Typical work hours

Dermatologists generally work full-time, around 40 hours per week. Their working hours primarily fall within the standard business hours from 9 am to 5 pm. However, they may need to work longer hours when dealing with a high volume of patients.

On-call responsibilities and after-hours work are less common in dermatology compared to other areas of medicine. However, some professionals may offer extended hours, including evenings and weekends, to accommodate patients. As with many physicians, flexibility may be required in unexpected situations or for patient emergencies.


How to become a dermatologist

This career guide section outlines how to become a dermatologist. The journey involves intense academic preparation, medical school training, and specialization in dermatology through residency programs.

Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree

The starting point is getting a bachelor’s degree at an accredited university. While no specific major is clearly required, focusing on the sciences, particularly biology or chemistry, can provide a solid foundation for future studies. A strong academic record is fundamental, as medical school acceptance is highly competitive.

Step 2: Pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, prospective dermatologists must take the MCAT exam. This standardized, multiple-choice exam is a critical factor in medical school admissions. It tests students on the skills and knowledge medical educators deem necessary for success in medical school.

Step 3: Complete medical school

Following undergraduate education and the MCAT, aspiring individuals must complete medical school. This typically involves two years of classroom-based learning in the sciences and two years of gaining hands-on clinical experience under the supervision of experienced physicians.

Step 4: Obtain a medical license

After graduating from medical school, the next step is to earn licensure. This requires passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) for M.D.s or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX) for D.O.s. These exams assess a physician’s ability to apply knowledge, concepts, and principles to patient care.

Step 5: Complete a dermatology residency program

The next step in this path is a dermatology residency program, which typically lasts four years. These programs offer in-depth training in dermatology and its sub-specialties. This includes training in how to diagnose and treat skin, hair, and nail conditions, perform surgical procedures, and manage patients with complex dermatological conditions.

Step 6: Obtain board certification in dermatology

After successfully completing a dermatology residency, dermatologists can become board-certified through the American Board of Dermatology or the American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology. Gaining this certification shows patients and employers that a dermatologist has the skills and knowledge required to provide high-quality patient care. Certification requires passing a rigorous exam and must be maintained through ongoing education and periodic re-examination.

Step 7: Gain professional experience

Having acquired board certification, the next step is to practice general dermatology — treating a broad range of skin complaints — to gain several years of experience. This offers opportunities to develop a professional reputation, establish a patient base, and consider subspecialties within the field of dermatology, such as cosmetic dermatology, pediatric dermatology, or dermatopathology.


How much do dermatologists make?

Dermatologist salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Specific factors that will impact their compensation include sub-specializations, years of practice, and research or teaching responsibilities.

Highest paying industries

  • Offices of Physicians – $320,000
  • Outpatient Care Centers – $310,000
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals – $300,000
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools – $290,000
  • Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories – $285,000

Highest paying states

  • Alaska – $330,000
  • New Mexico – $322,900
  • Oklahoma – $315,400
  • Connecticut – $310,800
  • Arizona – $308,900

Browse dermatologist salary data by market


Types of dermatologists

This career guide section highlights the various career types and areas of specialization for dermatologists. Below, we explore the unique attributes and responsibilities of each professional role within the field of dermatology.

Medical dermatologist

As the core practitioners in this field, medical dermatologists diagnose and treat skin conditions and diseases. They often conduct procedures such as skin biopsies, allergy testing, and topical or systemic treatment administration.

Pediatric dermatologist

Specializing in skin disorders affecting infants, children, and teenagers, pediatric dermatologists employ their skills to address unique skin issues related to these age groups. Treatment of birthmarks, pediatric infections, or genetic skin diseases is common in this specialty.

Cosmetic dermatologist

Focusing on enhancing the aesthetics of skin, hair, and nails, cosmetic dermatologists provide non-surgical interventions like filler injections, chemical peels, and laser therapy. These professionals often work on reducing skin aging signs, sun damage, and scarring.

Dermatopathologist

Dermatopathologists, combining skills from dermatology and pathology, perform microscopic examination and interpretation of skin tissue samples. Their diagnosis assists the medical dermatologist in determining the best treatment for the patient’s skin condition.

Surgical dermatologist

Trained in performing minimally invasive to complex surgeries centered around skin conditions, surgical dermatologists often deal with removing skin cancers, abnormal growths, or cosmetic enhancements. Key procedures may include Mohs surgery, cryosurgery, or laser surgery.


Top skills for dermatologists

This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as a dermatologist. A brief overview of these skills includes medical expertise, interpersonal skills, detail orientation, and problem-solving abilities.

Medical expertise

A thorough understanding of the human skin, hair, and nails, including knowledge of diseases, infections, abnormalities, and injuries that can affect these areas, is fundamental for a dermatologist. The combination of medical school education, residencies, and ongoing learning forms the ability to diagnose conditions accurately and administer appropriate treatment.

Interpersonal skills

Whether it’s communicating with patients, their families, or other healthcare professionals, interpersonal skills are vital. These doctors should be able to explain complex conditions and treatments in a way that patients can understand. Empathy and a comforting demeanor can make patients feel at ease, especially during potentially stressful consultations or procedures.

Detail-orientation

Given the nature of dermatology, being detail-oriented is another key trait. This entails a careful examination of the skin for subtle changes or symptoms, meticulous record-keeping, precise execution of treatment plans, and scrupulous follow-up to ensure patients’ well-being.

Problem-solving abilities

Another valuable skill involves the ability to problem-solve effectively. These professionals often encounter unique and complex cases requiring innovative solutions. Utilizing critical thinking, analytical skills, and professional judgment, they create effective treatment plans to address each individual patient’s needs.


Dermatologist career path options

As a dermatologist, your career path offers multiple opportunities for advancement and specialization. After gaining a few years of experience, many professionals choose to pursue a fellowship in a sub-specialty. These can include cosmetic dermatology, dermatopathology, pediatric dermatology, or surgical dermatology, among others. Focusing on a sub-specialty allows these doctors to deepen their expertise and potentially increase their earning potential.

Another viable path for career progression is taking on leadership positions within a medical practice or hospital setting. This might involve overseeing other dermatologists, medical staff, or entire departments. If your interest veers more toward the academic side, there’s the potential for becoming a faculty member at a medical school where you can contribute to the education of future physicians.

Beyond practicing medicine, dermatologists often write journal articles or speak at conferences, positioning themselves as thought leaders in their field. Also, industry paths like working with pharmaceutical or skincare companies in product development, research, or consulting often welcome those with in-depth dermatological knowledge. Regardless of the path you choose, a career that began in dermatology offers many opportunities for professional growth and contribution.


In recent years, non-invasive cosmetic procedures like botox, fillers, and laser treatments have seen an impressive surge. This is mirrored by growing societal acceptance and even enthusiasm toward such procedures, expanding the potential patient base.

Yet, it’s not solely about aesthetics. Dermatologists play a crucial role in diagnosing and treating skin cancers, which have risen steadily worldwide. Advances in telemedicine are reshaping the industry, enabling skin consults to occur remotely. Also, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) in diagnosing skin conditions present both opportunities and challenges for these professionals.

Employment projections

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, physician careers, including dermatologists, are projected to grow 3% through 2032. This rate is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Aging populations and progressing medical knowledge fuel this growth as more diagnoses and treatments become available.


Dermatologist career tips

Embrace lifelong learning

As medical practice evolves rapidly, being a successful dermatologist requires continually updating your knowledge and skills in the field. Regularly attending conferences, enrolling in relevant courses, reading professional journals, and participating in professional workshops are important for career growth and professional advancement.

Procure appropriate certifications

Obtaining further certifications in dermatology can significantly enhance your prospects in the profession. In addition to a basic medical degree, these physicians might consider board certification from recognized bodies such as the American Board of Dermatology. In the U.S., this certification is seen as a mark of high professional standards and can boost your career prospects.

Build a professional network

Networking is a key aspect of career growth, and dermatology is no exception. Building strong relationships with colleagues can lead to collaborative opportunities and job prospects. The following professional dermatology associations provide networking opportunities:

  • American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)
  • American Board of Dermatology (ABD)
  • American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS)
  • American Dermatological Association (ADA)

Seek out practice management skills

While most learning in dermatology centers on how to diagnose and treat medical conditions, understanding practice management can be just as crucial. This includes staff management, billing, coding, compliance, patient scheduling, and more. Many professional bodies offer practice management resources, so leverage these to broaden your career skillset and improve your practice.

Stay updated with technology advancements

The field of dermatology is constantly adapting to incorporate new technologies and techniques. Success in your career will largely depend on your ability to learn, adapt, and master these advancements as they emerge. This could include anything from new diagnostic methods to cutting-edge treatments. Staying updated with these developments can make you more effective and efficient in your practice, setting you apart in your profession.


Where the dermatologist jobs are

Top employers

  • Mayo Clinic
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • Texas Dermatology
  • Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery
  • Dermatology Associates

Top states

  • California
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Illinois

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • SimplyHired
  • Monster
  • CareerBuilder

FAQs

What is the central focus of a dermatologist’s work?

The primary focus of dermatologists lies in diagnosing, treating, and preventing diseases affecting the skin, hair, nails, and mucous membranes. They work on everything from minor skin concerns like acne to systemic diseases such as skin cancer or autoimmune disorders that manifest skin symptoms.

What specialized fields of dermatology can a dermatologist choose?

A dermatologist may choose to specialize in several sub-fields of dermatology based on interest. These include pediatric dermatology (children’s skin conditions), dermatopathology (microscopic examination and diagnosis of skin diseases), procedural dermatology (surgical treatments for skin conditions), and cosmetic dermatology (focus on improving aesthetic appearance).

What is the daily routine of a dermatologist?

A typical day for a dermatologist starts with reviewing patient appointments and medical histories. They then meet with patients, perform examinations, diagnose conditions, discuss treatment options, and possibly perform minor surgical procedures. They often end the day by documenting patient progress and coordinating with other healthcare professionals as necessary.

What skills correlate with being a successful dermatologist?

A successful dermatologist usually has sharp analytical skills to diagnose skin conditions accurately, empathy to understand patients’ concerns, and excellent communication skills, allowing for clear discussion of treatment options. Dexterity for delicate surgical procedures, professionalism, and patience are other key qualities in the field.

Is the dermatologist role an isolated job or is teamwork usually involved?

While dermatologists may operate their own private practices and spend a significant amount of time seeing patients one-on-one, a substantial degree of teamwork is often involved. They often collaborate with nurses, office staff, other doctors, pathologists, and more to ensure comprehensive patient care. Teaching, research, and consultation roles may also require a high level of teamwork.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a dermatologist?

Dermatologists often mention the satisfaction of resolving patients’ skin conditions and seeing visible improvements as the most rewarding part of their job. This includes physical and psychological improvement, as skin conditions often affect a patient’s self-esteem and confidence. They also have the opportunity to educate individuals and communities about skin health, contributing toward a larger societal impact.

What are the challenges that a dermatologist usually faces in their job?

Dermatologists can face a variety of challenges, including the pressure of a high patient load, keeping up to date with the latest research, and dealing with insurance documentation. In addition, the nature of skin diseases often requires personalized and holistic approaches, and some conditions can be stubborn or recurrent, presenting additional challenges.

What kinds of decisions does a dermatologist make routinely?

A dermatologist’s routine decisions often involve diagnosing skin conditions, determining the best treatment plan for a patient, and deciding whether to refer a patient to another specialist, particularly in complex or unusual cases. They also make decisions regarding patient follow-ups, skin biopsy procedures, prescription of medication, and preventive skincare advice.

Do dermatologists work regular office hours or are their hours variable?

Generally, dermatologists work standard office hours. However, this can be subject to variation. Those working in private practices often have more control over their working hours. In contrast, those working in hospitals may have to work irregular hours, including nights and weekends, to accommodate patient needs. They might also need to be available for emergencies outside of normal hours.