What is a dermatologist?
A few weeks ago, I was at a gathering here in Phoenix, Arizona, and someone asked me what I did as a career. I said I was a dermatologist. To which they replied, “Oh neat, did you go to school for that?” I was caught off guard as I felt the answer was obvious, but maybe it was not. So let’s dive in. A dermatologist is a medical doctor specializing in diagnosing and treating conditions affecting the skin, hair, and nails. Dermatologists are trained to evaluate and manage various conditions, including acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, skin cancer, and other skin disorders. They can also advise on how to care for the skin and prevent common skin problems. Dermatologists often use a variety of treatments, including medications, topical creams, and procedures such as injections or surgery, to manage skin conditions. They may also recommend lifestyle changes, such as avoiding specific triggers or using certain skincare products, to help manage skin conditions.
To become a dermatologist, an individual must complete educational and training requirements. Here is a general outline of the steps that are typically involved in becoming a dermatologist:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree: Most medical schools require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree. Many dermatologists choose to major in a science-related field, such as biology or chemistry, but I majored in Accounting.
- Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT): This is a standardized test required for medical school admission.
- Attend medical school: Medical school typically lasts four years and includes coursework in various subjects, including anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology.
- Complete a dermatology residency: After medical school, aspiring dermatologists must complete a 1-year medical internship and a dermatology residency program, typically lasting three years. During this time, they receive hands-on training in diagnosing and treating skin conditions.
- Obtain a medical license: To practice medicine, dermatologists must obtain a medical license in the state where they plan to work. This typically involves passing a licensing exam.
- Consider obtaining additional training or certification: Some dermatologists choose to complete a fellowship or pursue further training in a subspecialty area, such as Mohs surgery or pediatric dermatology.
It’s important to note that becoming a dermatologist is a challenging and time-consuming process. Becoming a dermatologist typically takes a minimum of 11 years of education and training after high school.
Additionally, I am a fellowship-trained and board-certified Mohs surgeon. A fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon is a dermatologist who has completed additional specialized training in a specific type of surgery called Mohs micrographic surgery. This type of surgery is used to treat skin cancer, specifically basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, the most common skin cancer types, but also rare malignancies and melanoma.
Mohs surgery is a precise and specialized procedure that involves removing thin layers of skin tissue one at a time and examining them under a microscope to ensure that all cancerous cells have been removed. It is often used for skin cancers located in difficult-to-treat areas or for cancers with a high risk of recurrence.
Fellowship-trained Mohs surgeons have completed additional training beyond their dermatology residency, specifically in Mohs surgery and other skin cancer management procedures. As a result, they have a high level of expertise in this area and can provide specialized care for patients with skin cancer.