How do I become a dermatologist?

If you are good at science, have empathy for others and pay close attention to details, you might wonder how to become a dermatologist. Dermatology is the medical specialty concerned with conditions of the skin. Dermatologists are the doctors who diagnose and treat these conditions, which may be as innocuous-seeming as acne or as serious as skin cancer. In addition to traditional medical procedures, many dermatologists also provide cosmetic services, such as injections to reduce wrinkles and both laser and minimally invasive surgical procedures.

Many different medical conditions can afflict the skin, from dryness and acne to infections and even cancerous cell growth. In fact, the treatment of more than 3,000 different medical conditions falls under the discipline of dermatology, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Like other types of doctors, dermatologists examine patients, order and interpret the results of diagnostic testing and treat conditions by performing procedures and prescribing medications. While dermatologists are typically associated with the treatment of skin disorders, they also treat conditions of the nails, hair and mucus membranes.

Like other types of doctors, dermatologists must earn an advanced degree to practice medicine. Candidates should begin their educational careers by earning a bachelor’s degree from a college or university. Popular undergraduate degree programs include biology and other science-related majors. Before applying to medical schools, aspiring doctors must take the examination called the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Once students attain a spot in a competitive medical school, they will learn anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and medical laws and ethics during two years of classroom instruction and laboratory work. Medical students spend the next two years of medical school gaining clinical experience examining, diagnosing and treating patients in a variety of medical disciplines. Once they complete these requirements and earn a degree – either a Medical Doctor (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree – aspiring dermatologists must complete a year-long internship at a hospital or clinic in a field such as family medicine, general surgery or internal medicine. Then aspiring dermatologists must spend three years completing a residency program in dermatology. Finally, doctors must obtain a license in the state in which they intend to practice, which usually requires successful completion of either the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination.

Like other types of specialists, dermatologists typically earn more than primary care physicians. Medscape, by WebMD, reported that dermatologists earned a median salary of $283,000 in 2011. As healthcare continues to be a rapidly-growing field, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics expects job opportunities for doctors of all kinds, including dermatologists, to grow by 24 percent during the 2010 to 2020 decade. If you have an interest in the healthcare field, a keen eye for noticing symptoms and aesthetic flaws in skin and the compassion and leadership skills to become a doctor, knowing how to become a dermatologist could be your first step toward a lucrative new career in the expanding field of healthcare.

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