Should you become a dermatologist? If you enjoy science and aren’t afraid to tackle years of training, this might be the career path for you. Dermatologists are specialized medical doctors, so you’ll need to take multiple undergraduate science classes, complete medical school and finish a competitive residency before you can hang up your shingle.
Your journey to a career as a dermatologist begins as an undergraduate student. You can enter medical school with any bachelor’s degree, but you must meet certain course requirements. To be a viable candidate for medical school, you’ll need at least two semesters of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry and physics plus their associated lab courses. This often means taking three credits of lecture and one credit of laboratory time. Some schools also require coursework in English, calculus and biochemistry. If you’ve already completed an undergraduate degree but didn’t pick up enough science credits, don’t worry. Many schools offer post-bacc pre-med programs with specialized attention to help you realize your dream of becoming a doctor. These condensed programs provide academic counseling and science classes to get you into med school.
Have you heard the saying that even a medical student who graduates at the bottom of the class is still called a doctor? While true, performing poorly in medical school will make it almost impossible for you to become a dermatologist. That’s because dermatology is one of the most competitive medical specialties, according to the National Residency Matching Program. Dermatologists earn a high salary and enjoy consistent office hours with limited on-call expectations, so many medical students dream of entering this specialty.
To stand out from the pack, you’ll need to do a few things. First, you’ll need to do well on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1, which you’ll take after the first two years of medical school. Next, you’ll take Step 2 of the exam at the end of your third year. Finally, you’ll go through a number of six-week clinical rotations in your third and fourth year of medical school. Do well in these practical sessions and impress your clinical supervisors to earn a good performance review. These three factors – USLME Step 1 and Step 2 scores plus your clinical evaluations – are the most important considerations for matching into a dermatology residency.
Residency and Fellowships
Your quest for a career in dermatology is not finished after four years of undergraduate studies and four years of medical school. You’ll need to complete a three-year residency, where you’ll receive hands-on training and work up to 80 hours per week. More experienced dermatologists will guide you through diagnosing and treating skin, hair and nail diseases. You’ll learn how to perform dermatological surgery and navigate hospital bureaucracy. After these three years of intensive study, you’re finally ready to start working as a dermatologist. If you aren’t sick of school, you can complete a one to two year fellowship to specialize in pediatric dermatology (working with children), dermopathology (analyzing skin cells and tissue) or dermatological surgery to hone your skills.
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The road is long, but the destination is rewarding. Dermatologists love their work, their pay and their consistent schedules. If you want to become a dermatologist, start working on your science pre-requisites today.