Becoming a Dermatologist: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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A dermatologist's median annual salary is around $313,000, but is it worth the education requirements and corresponding debt? Get the truth about job duties and career prospects to decide if dermatologist is the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Dermatology Career

Dermatologists are medical doctors who deal with skin and skin ailments. Continue reading to learn more about the pros and cons of a career in dermatology so you can decide if it's a good fit for you.

Pros of Becoming a Dermatologist
Above average job outlook (expected 18% job growth for physicians and surgeons from 2012-2022)*
High salary ($313,000 median annual salary)**
Satisfaction of improving patients' health and/or appearance****
General and subspecialty certification available***

Cons of Becoming a Dermatologist
High cost of medical school (at state medical schools, approximately $25,000 a year in tuition and fees for residents and $48,000 for non-residents as of 2010-2011)****
Requires at least 8 years of postsecondary education*
May work long, irregular hours*
Demand for services may be tied to healthcare reimbursement policies*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com, ***American Board of Dermatology, ****Association of American Medical Colleges.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Dermatologists see a variety of patients, from young children to the elderly. They conduct skin evaluations in order to determine how best to treat and prevent conditions such as dandruff, acne and skin cancer. Dermatologists may remove skin that's been discolored due to age spots, birthmarks or sun damage, as well as prescribe medication for specific conditions, such as acne or psoriasis. In some cases, they perform surgeries to control certain diseases.

Specializations

According to the American Board of Dermatology (ABD), you could pursue a specialization in dermatology, such as dermatopathology or pediatric dermatology. Dermatopathologists are experts in microscopic skin diseases, including degenerative, infectious and immunologic diseases. They surgically remove some of a patient's skin tissue to run tests and make a diagnosis. Pediatric dermatologists work with children who have skin infections, birthmarks or skin diseases.

Salary Info

Salary.com reported that the median annual salary for all dermatologists was $313,000 as of August 2015. However, figures from PayScale.com showed that pay typically was dependent on years of experience in the field. For example, a dermatologist with 0-5 years of experience earned $194,000 as of December 2014 while, based on the same PayScale.com figures, a dermatologist with 20+ years of experience earned $268,000 or more.

Education and Training Requirements

You'll first need to complete an undergraduate program that meets medical school prerequisites. Then, you'll need to complete four years of medical school, where you'll study topics like physiology, anatomy, microbiology, pathology, medical ethics and pharmacology. Some schools offer combined undergraduate/medical school programs that can take 6-7 years to complete. Following the completion of your medical degree, you'll need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination and meet any additional state requirements to earn your medical license.

After graduation from medical school, most prospective dermatologists go on to residency programs in dermatology, which typically last 3-4 years. As a resident, you'll likely gain experience working with inpatients and outpatients in dermatopathology, laser surgery, cosmetics, Mohs surgery, blistering diseases, pediatric dermatology and melanoma. Some residencies also include a teaching component, which requires residents to give lectures on dermatological practices and principles. Once you've finished your residency, you should be eligible to take an examination in dermatology through the ABD to become a board-certified dermatologist.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Dermatologists are in demand to work with private practices, hospitals and doctor's offices. Most employers look for dermatologist candidates who have a medical license and board certification. The following job postings can provide you with a small peek at the requirements and education that employers were looking for in March 2012.

  • A medical group in California was looking for a board-certified or board-eligible dermatologist to provide full-time dermatological care to a range of patients during the day shift.
  • A Brooklyn dental services company was looking for a dermatologist with experience in Botox and dermal fillers.
  • A company in Washington, D.C., was interested in hiring a board-certified dermatologist to work at least 20 hours per week and see 20 patients per week via videoconferencing to give consultations and general care. The employer preferred to hire a dermatologist with at least a year of experience.
  • A treatment center in New York was interested in hiring a licensed and board-certified or board-eligible dermatologist for a 4-hour session per month. The employer preferred someone who had experience working with people with developmental disabilities.
  • A Las Vegas-area Air Force base was interested in hiring a licensed, board-certified dermatologist who would be able to examine and diagnose skin diseases, prepare medical records, prescribe treatments and manage interns, residents and physician assistants.

How to Beat the Competition

Complete a Fellowship

One way to stand out is to complete a fellowship after your residency. This additional training can provide you with more experience in patient care and research, and it also can allow you to focus on a specialty, such as pediatric dermatology, procedural dermatology, clinical research or dermatopathology. After completing your fellowship, you might pursue specialty certification in pediatric dermatology or dermatopathology from the ABD.

Join a Professional Organization

Another way to stand out is to become a member of the American Academy of Dermatology. This can help you follow trends in the industry and allow you to keep your skills up-to-date through symposiums, webinars and other meetings. Individuals who opt to participate in a fellowship are granted complimentary membership during their training period.

Other Careers to Consider

If you're looking for a career that requires less education and training, or if you want a position that has an even greater job outlook than that of dermatologist, you might be interested in one of the jobs below.

Dermatology Nurse

If becoming a dermatologist doesn't seem right for you, you could consider a career as a dermatology nurse. In this position, you would work under a licensed dermatologist to treat skin conditions. Certification in this field is available through the Dermatology Nurses' Association; to be eligible, you must be a registered nurse and work in a dermatology office or a dermatology unit of a hospital for at least two years and 2,000 hours. The BLS projected that the employment of registered nurses, including dermatology nurses, would increase by about 26% between 2010 and 2020, which was greater than the average for all occupations. PayScale.com reported that certified dermatology nurses earned about $49,500 as of March 2012.

Dermatology Physician Assistant

A dermatology physician assistant (PA) must practice medicine under the supervision of a licensed physician, such as a dermatologist. According to the BLS, employment growth was expected to be around 30% for PAs between 2010 and 2020. The Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants states that most PAs have a bachelor's degree before they enter a physician assistant training program, which takes 2-3 years to complete. The BLS adds that they must also earn a PA license. Physician assistants made a median annual salary of around $89,000 as of May 2011, according to the BLS.

Medical Scientist

If you're interested in research, you could become a medical scientist, which involves conducting research in disease prevention, treatment or drug development. With a median annual salary of around $77,000 as of May 2011, medical scientist might sound like a great choice; however, it takes 8 years of study beyond high school to become a medical scientist, according to the BLS. The BLS projected that employment of medical scientists could increase by 36% between 2010 and 2020, which was much faster than average.

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