Physician Career Profile: Dermatologist

From Education to Work Environment

Dermatologist inspecting melanoma
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A dermatologist is a physician trained to treat diseases and conditions of the skin, on any part of the body. Dermatologists can treat anything from a fungus or bacterial infection of the skin to various types of cancer. Dermatologists remove cancerous or unhealthy lesions from the skin, in a minor outpatient surgical procedure.

In addition to medical treatment of skin conditions, dermatologists may also do aesthetic, elective procedures for patients who wish to improve skin tone and decrease signs of aging.

Some of these aesthetic treatments may include laser treatment, botox injections, or collagen injections.

Educational and Training Requirements

Because dermatologists are physicians, they must have either an M.D. or a D.O. degree (medical doctorate). They must complete:

Like other physicians, dermatologists must meet the other requirements for a U.S. medical license to practice, by passing all three steps of the USMLE exam. Then, the doctor must pass the test for Board Certification by the American Board of Dermatology. Lastly, the prospective dermatologist must meet requirements for a state license in the state he or she wishes to work.

What's to Like about a Career as a Dermatologist

You’ve probably never heard of an emergency mole removal, and that is one of the many reasons dermatology is such a desirable field in which to practice: quality of life.

Dermatologists do not have to cover hospital patients on a rigorous call schedule like some other types of physicians do. Sure, there may be complications from an office procedure or other issues that may arise, but dermatologists handle much fewer emergency calls and situations than physicians in other high-paying specialties.

Compensation is another great “plus” for being a dermatologist. In addition to attracting well-insured patients due to the nature of the specialty not being one that caters to acute care or very sick patients. Dermatologists can set prices and get paid in cash for any aesthetic and elective procedures they provide, allowing them to boost the cash flow of their practice, without having to wait for insurance companies to reimburse them a measly percentage of a fee.

These aesthetic procedures may include botox or collagen injections, minor plastic surgery, and other procedures which serve to beautify rather than cure.

Work Environment and Schedule

Dermatologists primarily work out of a medical office. Most, if not all dermatological surgical procedures can be completed on an outpatient basis (in the office) as opposed to in a hospital. Dermatologists enjoy a fairly set schedule in addition to the other perks.

Dermatologists may work in a group with other dermatologists, or work alone, as a solo practitioner. Additionally, dermatologists may work as part of a group of physicians who practice a variety of specialties. Such medical groups are called multi-specialty medical groups.

What's Not to Like

Because of the desirability of dermatology as a physician career, dermatology is a competitive field and one that can be even more difficult than other physician specialties to enter successfully.

Typically the top medical school graduates are the candidates who get accepted into the relatively few dermatology residency spots.

While there is a very high demand for dermatology services in most communities, hospitals are not as eager to sponsor practices for dermatologists, because they don’t admit as many patients into the hospital as physicians in other medical specialties.

One of the perks of dermatology (cash pay for elective and aesthetic procedures) actually becomes a drawback to dermatologists' careers, in a slow economy. When people lose jobs and insurance coverage, they tend to visit a doctor only if they are deathly ill.

Most patients will put off botox injections and rash or mole checks if they feel they can get by without going to a doctor and paying a medical bill. Even insured patients may skip the doctor to avoid a co-pay when the economy is very bad.

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