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How To Become A Dermatologist

  • by Dr. Michael Stephens
  • Feb 28, 2022
  • Reviewed by: Amy Rontal

Love skin? Think that your passion might be diagnosing and treating cutaneous disorders?

Dermatology is an incredible field with a uniquely broad scope that spans treating adults and children, making diagnoses clinically and with pathology, working in both outpatient and inpatient contexts, and performing a variety of procedures and outpatient surgeries. If making a difference in the lives of your patients with skin conditions sounds appealing, read on!

Starting Out In Medical School

If you recognize your interest in dermatology early on, take advantage of opportunities your school offers! These opportunities might include:

  • Shadowing dermatologists in clinical setting
  • Getting involved in a dermatology interest group or an equivalent organization
  • Participating in research projects in the field of dermatology
  • Exploring resources provided by the American Academy of Dermatology

Of course, at the beginning of your journey you’re eager to learn how to become a physician, so it can understandably be difficult to squeeze all or any of the above into your schedule. Still, if you happen to have time off in your curriculum, use it to pursue some of these opportunities.

During Your Clinical Rotations

The year of clinical rotations can be quite busy as you balance clinical responsibilities with studying, and it is again fine to place your dermatology pursuits on hold during this time. As you finish your rotations, however, you face some important considerations. Dermatology is a competitive field in the NRMP Match, and factors that are reviewed in evaluations of applications include your exposure to the field, scholastic and educational accomplishments, and leadership roles and service contributions. Toward the midpoint of your third year of medical school, take time to analyze the following:

  • Have you spent sufficient time working with dermatologists to make sure dermatology is your professional passion?
  • Have you engaged in any research projects and made a meaningful contribution to the dermatologic literature?
  • Have you performed well on exams and classwork?

Identifying a mentor who can guide you on the application process can be very helpful. Developing a connection with a faculty member who can guide and advocate for you can be crucial.

Doing A Year-Long Research Or Clinical Fellowship

If you have been engaged in the field of dermatology since the beginning of medical school, it would be reasonable to immediately submit your application for residency during your fourth year of medical school. Conversely, if you discovered the field later in medical school, you might consider taking an additional year to explore this new interest. You can use the extra time to become involved in research projects, to learn further skills in the dermatology clinic, and to acquaint yourself further with the field.

The journey to become a dermatologist may be long, but the career is an amazing one!

Applying Into Dermatology

Preparing your application for dermatology is a significant milestone  and not as complicated as it might seem. The interface you will use is ERAS, the same used for most other specialties. The requirements for each program are published online and are relatively standardized. Just keep in mind that you also need to apply for a “preliminary” position in medicine, pediatrics, or surgery which would represent your intern year before starting your “advanced” training in dermatology. Check out the online resources of the Association of American Medical Colleges and American Medical Association when deciding which programs to apply for. It’s essential to do your research and to strategize, and you have all the tools to do so.

The process is otherwise pretty consistent with that for other specialties. Programs review applications on a rolling basis and release interview invitations shortly afterwards. It’s usually best to set a target number of interviews. Although interviews are daunting, they can be the most enjoyable part of the experience. You will interact with other applicants, future colleagues, and many leaders in the field of dermatology at different institutions. Take time to prepare yourself for a variety of standardized questions, including the two most common ones:

  • Why you are interested in dermatology?
  • How have your life experiences have molded you into the unique person you are today?

 Be yourself, and communicate earnestly about what you will contribute to the field. Your enthusiasm won’t go unnoticed. 

Final Months Of Medical School

After you finish interviews and submit your rank list, celebrate this incredible milestone in your career! Intern year and residency tend to be busy, so you can and absolutely should take time to be with family and friends and enjoy the free time in the final months of medical school. While the journey to become a dermatologist may be long, the career is an amazing one. If you know you have a passion for it, it truly is worth it.

About the Author

Originally from the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati, OH, Mike finished his undergraduate degree at a small Kentucky liberal arts school called Thomas More University. From there, he attended medical school at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA, where he was involved in the Medical Student Government, Dermatology Interest Group, and University City community clinic. He completed a preliminary internship in Internal Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA and is currently a dermatology resident in the Harvard combined program. Outside of medicine, Mike enjoys hiking, playing tennis, and just generally being outside. Though the Patriots and Eagles might have Super Bowl wins behind them, he will always be a Bengals fan at heart.