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Dermatologist Career Guide

What is a dermatologist?

A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in taking care of your skin, hair, and nails. They deal with all sorts of skin issues, like acne, skin cancer, and rashes, and also perform treatments such as laser therapy and skin peels. They help people feel good about their skin and spot serious health problems early.

Duties and responsibilities

Dermatologists figure out what’s wrong with your skin and decide how to treat it. They check your skin thoroughly, diagnose issues, and plan treatments. Some common tasks are removing moles, doing skin biopsies, and taking care of warts or skin cancer. They give advice on how to protect your skin from the sun, and they do cosmetic procedures like Botox and laser treatments.

Work environment

Dermatologists work a lot with patients, either in their own offices or in hospitals. They have offices with the needed medical tools and often work in surgical settings too. Dermatology is usually less hectic than other medical specialties since it often doesn’t involve emergency cases. But it can get stressful if a skin issue signals a bigger health problem.

Typical work hours

Most dermatologists work about 40 hours a week, usually during regular business hours, 9 am to 5 pm. They might work extra when it’s really busy. Unlike other medical areas, they don’t often have to be on-call or work odd hours. Some might have evening or weekend hours to help more patients. They also need to be ready for unexpected situations or emergencies with patients.

How to become a dermatologist

If you’re thinking about becoming a dermatologist, you’re looking at a journey filled with lots of learning and hands-on practice. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Get a bachelor’s degree

Start with earning a bachelor’s degree from a good university. You don’t need a specific major, but studying sciences like biology or chemistry helps. You need good grades because getting into medical school is pretty tough.

Step 2: Pass the MCAT

After your bachelor’s degree, you must take the MCAT. It’s a big, standardized test that medical schools use to pick students. It covers a lot of stuff you need to know for medical school.

Step 3: Complete medical school

Next is medical school, which usually takes four years. The first two years are mostly classroom learning, and the last two are more about getting real experience in hospitals or clinics under the guidance of experienced doctors.

Step 4: Get a medical license

Once you graduate from medical school, you need to get a license. You’ll have to pass the USMLE for M.D.s or the COMLEX for D.O.s. These exams check if you’re ready to take care of patients.

Step 5: Complete a dermatology residency program

Now, you’ll spend about four years in a dermatology residency program. This is where you really dive deep into dermatology, learning all about treating skin, hair, nail conditions, and doing surgical procedures.

Step 6: Obtain board certification in dermatology

After your residency, you can get board-certified by passing an exam from the American Board of Dermatology or the American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology. This certification is a big deal and shows you’re really good at what you do. You have to keep up with learning and take exams now and then to maintain it.

Step 7: Gain professional experience

Finally, start working as a general dermatologist to gain experience. As you work, you can build your reputation, grow your patient list, and maybe even specialize in cosmetic or pediatric dermatology.

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

Dermatology is more than just one job – there are different types of dermatologists, each focusing on different aspects of skin care. Here’s a look at some of the specialties:

  • Medical dermatologist: These are the go-to experts for diagnosing and treating skin diseases. They do things like skin biopsies and allergy tests and provide treatments both on and under the skin. 
  • Pediatric dermatologist: These dermatologists specialize in skin issues in babies, kids, and teens. They treat things like birthmarks, infections, and genetic skin problems that are specific to younger patients.
  • Cosmetic dermatologist: They perform procedures without surgery, like fillers, chemical peels, and laser treatments. They focus on making skin look better, fixing things like wrinkles, sun damage, and scars.
  • Dermatopathologist: A mix of dermatology and pathology, these professionals examine skin samples under a microscope. Their work helps determine exactly what’s wrong with the skin, which in turn helps medical dermatologists decide on the best treatment.
  • Surgical dermatologist: These are the dermatologists who perform surgeries. They handle everything from small, less invasive procedures to big surgeries, mainly focusing on removing skin cancers and abnormal skin growths or making cosmetic improvements. 

Top skills for dermatologists

To be a successful dermatologist, you need more than just medical knowledge. Here are some critical skills and traits that are really important in this field:

  • Medical expertise: Obviously, you need to know a lot about skin, hair, and nails – like understanding various diseases and conditions that affect them. Being able to accurately diagnose and treat different skin issues is crucial.
  • Interpersonal skills: They need to explain complex skin issues in simple terms to patients and their families. Being empathetic and providing comfort during stressful times is important to make patients feel at ease.
  • Detail-oriented: In dermatology, small details matter a lot. You should be able to spot tiny changes in the skin and keep accurate records. 
  • Problem-solving abilities: You’ll often see unique and challenging cases. Being able to think critically and come up with effective treatment plans is vital. 

Dermatologist career path options

As a dermatologist, you have a lot of different directions you can take in your career. Here’s a breakdown of some of the paths you might consider:

Pursue a fellowship in a sub-specialty

After getting some experience, you can specialize further by doing a fellowship in areas like cosmetic dermatology, dermatopathology, pediatric dermatology, or surgical dermatology. Specializing like this can make you an expert in that area and might also increase how much you earn.

Leadership roles in medical settings

You could move up to oversee other doctors, medical staff, or even whole departments in a medical practice or hospital. This is for those who like leading and managing as much as practicing medicine.

Academic careers

If teaching and research are more your thing, becoming a faculty member at a medical school is an option. This way, you get to train future doctors and contribute to medical education.

Writing and speaking engagements

Dermatologists often share their knowledge by writing articles for medical journals or speaking at conferences. Doing this establishes you as an expert in your field.

Work with pharmaceutical or skincare companies

With your deep knowledge of skin, you can work in product development, research, or as a pharmaceutical or skincare industry consultant. This is a different way to use your expertise outside direct patient care.

The field of dermatology is evolving, with several trends influencing its future:

  • Rise in cosmetic procedures: Non-invasive cosmetic treatments, like botox, fillers, and laser therapy, are becoming more popular. This trend is expanding the range of patients seeking cosmetic services, which can be a significant area of growth for dermatologists.
  • Skin cancer treatment and diagnosis: There’s an increasing need for dermatologists to diagnose and treat skin cancer, which continues to rise globally. This demand underscores their importance in both preventive healthcare and treatment.
  • Telemedicine: Advancements in telemedicine are changing how dermatology services are delivered. More dermatologists are providing remote consultations, allowing for greater flexibility and accessibility for patients. 
  • Artificial intelligence and technology: AI can assist in diagnosing skin conditions more quickly and accurately. However, it also requires dermatologists to stay updated with technological advancements and potentially adapt their practices to incorporate these new tools.

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

The field of medicine is always evolving. Stay informed by attending conferences, taking courses, reading journals, and joining workshops.

Get the right certifications

Additional certifications like those from the American Board of Dermatology can significantly boost your career. These certifications are evidence of your commitment and expertise in the field.

Build a professional network

Networking is key in any career. Join associations like the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) or the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) to connect with other professionals. This can lead to new job opportunities, collaborations, and staying informed about industry trends.

Develop practice management skills

It is important to know how to manage a practice. Understand staff management, billing, coding, compliance, and patient scheduling. Professional associations often have resources to help you develop these skills.

Stay updated with technology

Dermatology is increasingly integrating new technologies. Keeping up with these advancements is essential for your effectiveness and efficiency. Being technologically savvy can set you apart in your field, whether it’s new diagnostic tools or treatment methods.

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


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

Their primary focus lies in diagnosing, treating, and preventing diseases affecting the skin, hair, nails, and mucous membranes. They work on everything from minor skin concerns to systemic diseases.

What specialized fields of dermatology can a dermatologist choose?

They 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 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, empathy, and excellent communication skills. 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 they 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. 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?

They 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?

Their 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. 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, they 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.