What Is a Dermatologist?
If you are interested in caring for patients with skin disorders such as acne, psoriasis and eczema then you may consider a career as a dermatologist. Exactly what is a dermatologist? A dermatologist is a doctor specially trained in finding, preventing, and treating diseases of the skin, hair, nails, and adjacent mucous membranes. Many people wonder: what is a skin doctor called? The technical name for a skin doctor is a dermatologist.
What do dermatologists do?
As a dermatologist, you will be able to identify and treat more than 3,000 conditions, and you can help improve the quality of life for people suffering from minor and irritating conditions to severe and life-threatening maladies.
Skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis are generally not life-threatening. But, they can drastically diminish a person’s happiness and overall well-being. According to a study published in Canadian Family Physician, for example, conditions such as acne and psoriasis can produce anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems. In treating skin conditions, dermatologists can thus dramatically improve their patients’ quality of life.
Dermatologists are also bonafide lifesavers. They are the front line of defense against the most common type of cancer—skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 100,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with melanoma—a deadly but highly treatable skin cancer—each year.
HOW TO BECOME A DERMATOLOGIST
To be a dermatologist, you must first become a physician by graduating from an accredited medical school—such as American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine* (AUC). The path to a medical degree at AUC, which is located on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, is the same as at United States-based schools: two years of medical science classes and two years of hands-on clinical training. For AUC students, the medical sciences curriculum is completed at the St. Maarten campus; the clinical training can be completed at affiliated teaching hospitals in the United States or in the United Kingdom.
AUC also partners with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in the United Kingdom for a “UK-track” option. The first two years at UCLan focus on studying the medical sciences. Upon completion, students receive a Post Graduate Diploma in International Medical Sciences, which AUC recognizes as equivalent to its own medical sciences curriculum. During the final two years, students can then complete clinical training across AUC’s network of affiliated teaching hospitals.
During clinical training, AUC students complete core rotations in internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, family medicine, obstetrics/ gynecology, and psychiatry. Each individual student, then, selects from among dozens of specialty elective clerkships to fulfill their remaining clinical requirements.
During the fourth and final year of medical school, students prepare for the next phase of their medical education: residency. At AUC, the Office of Career Advisement (OCA) can help students determine which residency specialty—such as dermatology—suits them best. The OCA then helps students navigate the National Resident Matching Program® (NRMP®)—a placement system which medical students who wish to become licensed in the United States use to “match” with a medical residency. Residencies are required to become a licensed physician, and they last from three to eight years. Future dermatologists must do a preliminary transitional year in a broad-based clinical specialty (usually internal medicine) before completing a three-year residency in dermatology.
In 2021, AUC had a first-time residency attainment rate of 92 percent for 2020-2021 graduates—on par with the overall match rate (92.8 percent) for medical schools in the United States. In recent years, AUC MDs have matched with transitional year residencies (ahead of their specialty residencies) at such hospitals as Ascension Providence Hospital in Michigan; Piedmont Macon Medical Center in Georgia; St. Francis Medical Center in Illinois; and St. Petersburg General Hospital in Florida.
After the successful completion of dermatological training, a doctor may be certified by the American Board of Dermatology, the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. A board-certified dermatologist may earn the abbreviation FAAD, meaning the doctor is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. Doctors who want to subspecialize in a specific field of dermatology must take additional training.
SUBSPECIALTIES WITHIN DERMATOLOGY
Dermatology is a highly specialized field. But some dermatologists choose to specialize even further, pursuing one of many subspecialties.
- Cosmetic dermatology involves the treatment of problems that affect appearance. A cosmetic dermatologist may treat common skin problems such acne and moles. Cosmetic dermatologists may also treat the effects of aging, improving the appearance of wrinkles and sunspots.
- Dermatopathology combines dermatology with pathology, the study of disease. Dermatopathologists specialize in diagnosing skin disease by analyzing samples under a microscope. Many dermatopathologists are involved in the diagnosis of skin cancer.
- Mohs surgery is a special technique used to treat certain types of skin cancer. A Mohs surgeon removes a small amount of tissue from a lesion at a time, analyzing it under a microscope for cancer cells. This painstaking process enables the surgeon to get all of the cancer while removing a minimum of healthy tissue.
- Pediatric dermatology involves treating the skin of children. Pediatric dermatologists treat many of the same skin disorders that affect adults, but in kids. They may also treat concerns particular to children, such as birthmarks.
WHAT DOES A DERMATOLOGIST DO?
You may be curious to know what is a dermatologist’s normal routine like. Dermatologists are in high demand, so a typical workday may involve a busy schedule. However, more than many other specialists, dermatologists tend to see people on a scheduled, non-emergency basis. As a result, they often enjoy more regular work schedules than many other doctors.
According to research by the healthcare support company IQVIA, about 30 percent of dermatologists are in solo practice, maintaining their own office. Most of the rest work in a group practice with other dermatologists. A small number work in hospitals or in academic settings, training the next generation of dermatologists.
Many common dermatological problems require ongoing treatment. As such, dermatologists, particularly those in private or group practice, enjoy having a long-term association with their patients.
Issues that affect the skin are among the most visible medical conditions. A result, they unfortunately tend to carry an outsized social stigma and impact on self-esteem. Navigating patients through the emotional as well as physical dimensions of their treatment is part of the challenge–and reward—of dermatology.
MEET A DERMATOLOGIST
Lauren Boshnick, MD, a 2018 AUC graduate, is completing her residency at Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee. We asked Dr. Boshnick to describe the role of a dermatologist.
Q: Why did you decide to go into your specialty?
A: I always knew I wanted to be a physician. During medical school, I was immediately drawn most to subjects that involved great detail like immunology, microbiology, molecular cell biology, and pharmacology. I enjoyed understanding the small parts and fitting them into the large picture. Dermatology is a field of great complexity and detail and I found myself immediately drawn to the field. I enjoy the mixture of cases that dermatology offers. I also enjoy the different ways I can help people in dermatology with surgery, laser therapy, cosmetics, or medical therapy. It is immensely rewarding to be able to apply my medical knowledge to the patient at the bedside and see them get better.
Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: The most rewarding part of my job is visibly seeing my patients get better. In dermatology, each case has a unique approach to helping the patient get better. I also enjoy seeing patients of all different backgrounds and ages and building long-standing relationships with them.
Q: Any advice to medical students considering the specialty?
A: I would advise anyone interested in dermatology to work to master their subjects in medical school. Dermatology is incredibly competitive and requires true devotion to the field. A competitive application likely requires a high-grade point average and high USMLE® [United States Medical Licensing Examination®] scores in addition to a competitive resume of publications and academic endeavors. Whatever your passion may be, work hard to pursue it! It has been incredibly rewarding to achieve my goal and I am forever thankful for the opportunity AUC provided me.
JOB OUTLOOK FOR DERMATOLOGISTS
Dermatologists are in short supply—and thus, high demand. According to CareerExplorer, the U.S. is expected to need more than 40,000 additional dermatologists by 2026.
The need for additional dermatologists is driven in part by the growth of the overall population. Also, skin cancer diagnoses are on the rise, increasing the demand for treatment. The aging of the population is leading to an increase in demand for cosmetic, skin cancer, and other services. In warm and sunny areas, the demand for the treatment of skin cancer and other sun-related issues is particularly high.
Now that you know the answers to the questions, what is a dermatologist? How to become a dermatologist? you can be more confident in knowing if dermatology is the right specialty for you. Your path to success begins with four years of study at a quality medical school. Apply for admission in AUC.