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How do I Become a Dermatologist?

A dermatologist examining a mole.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2014
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Dermatology is a specialty medical field, and a dermatologist is a licensed physician who has chosen to spend several years after medical school training to specialize in diseases of the skin and related areas. It can take a long time to become a dermatologist, though many doctors find this field extremely rewarding.

The path to become a doctor varies depending upon country. In the US, people must complete a four-year undergraduate degree prior to applying to medical school. Many choose to get an undergraduate degree that emphasizes keys aspects of science, especially the life sciences and chemistry, and many people complete a pre-med major in preparation for medical school. In junior or early senior year, students take the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®). Good scores on this test and high grades increases chances of getting into medical schools, which are usually highly competitive.

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Once arriving at medical school, it will take three to four years to complete a degree and then a student must take further examinations and have a certain amount of clinical practice before becoming a licensed doctor. During the last year or two of school and training, people can decide to remain in training and specialize. If they have the skill, they may be accepted to dermatology residency and training programs where they will continue their education for about five more years before they can fulfill other requirements to become a dermatologist. Education can take longer if doctors choose to learn more about their field. For instance, some take fellowships in surgical dermatology, while others might do residencies in pediatrics and dermatology to become pediatric dermatologists.

When training is complete, doctors apply for board certification, which usually requires proof of training and further examinations. Dermatology is also a field that offers people opportunities for continuing training. Especially since many dermatologists practice some cosmetic procedures, they often take time out from practice on a regular basis for extra training to learn new cosmetic methods with a certain degree of skill.

With undergraduate study, it takes approximately 12 to 14 years to become a dermatologist. In the UK, where medical school may be part of study in an undergraduate setting, it can still take about 14 years. Given the amount of time it requires, it’s a good idea to determine if dermatology is the right specialty.

People can get started on this investigation early. They might volunteer to work in a dermatology office while still in high school or college, or take a paid position as a medical assistant in a dermatology practice. It’s a good idea to talk to people in this field and find out why it appeals and what skills and qualities are necessary. A helpful dermatologist may allow a student thinking of pursuing this work to shadow him or her for a few days or a couple of weeks in order to help the student determine if this specialty is a good fit.

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