Dermatologists are doctors who specialize in treating medical conditions related to skin, hair, and nails. Patients seek out dermatologists to get help with health conditions that raise cosmetic concerns such as a rash or treat diseases such as skin cancer. Since the skin is one of the largest vital organs of the human body, comprising a total area of about 20 square feet, being a dermatologist means playing a pivotal role in caring for the organ in charge preventing pathogens from entering the body, temperature regulation, and sensations of touch and temperature.

Along with other medical professions, dermatology is an in-demand medical specialty. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that physician and surgeon careers, a general title that includes dermatologists, are growing faster than the average rate of occupational growth and that between 2018 and 2028, 55,400 new positions are expected to be created nationally—a growth rate of 7 percent, which is higher than the national average (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019).

Dermatologists have the choice of working in a variety of healthcare settings such as group practices, healthcare organizations, hospitals, academia, or outpatient clinics. As with all medical careers, becoming a dermatologist requires many years of schooling, medical residencies, and licensure examinations.

Those who want to specialize in a specific area of dermatology can anticipate an additional year of fellowship or residency training. The final credential for any medical doctor is board certification and for dermatology, this requires ongoing medical education and recertification every ten years.

Read on to learn more about what it takes to become a dermatologist, including details about typical education, experience, and credentialing.

Dermatologist Specializations & Degree Types

All dermatologists are board-certified physicians who have earned doctoral degrees in medicine. After earning board certification through the American Board of Dermatology, some dermatologists opt to further their medical training and specialize in a specific area of the discipline. The top three specializations for dermatology are:

  • Dermatopathology: This specialization trains dermatologists to investigate biopsied skin tissues with a microscope to diagnose medical conditions, write up a written pathology report, determine the stage and severity of a condition, and make recommendations for treatment.
  • Mohs surgery: A dermatologist trained in Mohs surgery treats patients with skin cancer. Mohs surgery focuses on the removal of cancerous tissues and a dermatologist trained as a Mohs surgeon can examine microscopic pieces of tissue under a microscope to ensure that cancerous tissues have been removed and healthy skin tissues remain.
  • Pediatric dermatology: Trained in diseases that affect skin, hair, or nails in children, a pediatric dermatologist may help children with skin disorders that affect their senses such as a birthmark that interferes with sight.

Admissions Requirements for Dermatologist Programs

Undergraduate admissions requirements for pre-med programs typically include a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater) SAT and/or ACT scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

Medical school admissions are highly competitive and undergraduate students are advised to major in the sciences, pre-med, or a related degree and keep their grades high. If possible, earning a minor degree in the humanities or other disciplines unrelated to science is recommended, as is coursework in public health, healthcare economics, or business to help applicants show a diverse range of knowledge outside of the sciences.

To further stand out on medical school applications, applicants are encouraged to volunteer or partake in clinical internships to demonstrate an interest in the profession. MCAT scores are also required for admission to medical school. To help medical school-bound students to search and compare medical schools, the Association of American Medical Colleges provides an online database called the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements).

For dermatology residency, admission requirements typically include a medical degree (MD) from an accredited university, a year of internship in dermatology, and for international applicants, TOEFL or IELTS test scores to demonstrate high levels of academic English proficiency.

Dermatologist Program Accreditation

When enrolling in any academic program, an important factor to research is a school’s accreditation status. Schools accredited at the national or programmatic level ensure students, future employers, and patients that a dermatologist’s education and training has met high peer-reviewed standards.

Undergraduate institutions are typically accredited at the national level by a list of regional organizations listed on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website.

When researching medical schools, aspiring dermatologists can look to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC): an organization that accredits 154 medical colleges in the United States, as well as 400 teaching hospitals and government health systems such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.

As for medical residencies, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) accredits medical residency training programs in the United States and Canada. In the 2019-2020 academic year, there were 144 ACGME-accredited dermatology residency programs and 1,595 on-duty residents.

On-Campus Dermatologist Degree Programs

Boston University

The Boston University School of Medicine offers two full-time degrees in dermatology: a two-year master of science and a four-year doctor of science degree. Students in this program are evaluated through exams, written assignments, and faculty evaluations.

During clinical rotations, students are directly supervised by a faculty member who is responsible for assessing students’ abilities in examination skills, dermatology knowledge, and diagnosis, and written and verbal communication. Students in both programs are required to take the American Board of Dermatology (ABD) exam and an oral examination to test all aspects of dermatology. In the last two years, four-year students must complete and defend a written thesis.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Duration: Two to four years
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Tuition: $64,884 annually

Mayo Clinic Pediatric Dermatology Fellowship

Medical school graduates looking for a dermatology fellowship in pediatrics can consider the one-year pediatric dermatology fellowship offered by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. This program emphasizes the advanced care of infants and children with severe skin diseases.

In this program, fellows see patients four days per week and are responsible for a half-day rotation in a community clinic. Offering only one spot per year, fellows in this competitive program also take part in teaching and research opportunities as well as clinical practices. Upon successfully completing this program, fellows are eligible to take the certification exam offered by the American Board of Dermatology. Fellows earn a biweekly stipend and benefits.

  • Location: Rochester, MN
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: American Board of Dermatology
  • Tuition: N/A

Online Dermatologist Degree Programs

There are no online dermatology medical school programs. However, there are online post-baccalaureate programs that provide degree training for graduates with a bachelor’s degree who did not pursue a pre-med track. These programs typically take two years to complete and offer courses and academic advising to help students prepare for medical school coursework and clinical rotations.

Colorado State University

Colorado State University offers online pre-med courses in a variety of general and specialty fields including general medicine. Courses can be taken to fulfill admissions requirements for medical school or taken as additional courses for those wanting to learn more about a specialty area such as pre-health genetics or gerontology. Students in this program have access to campus services to support adult learners, veterans, and academic advising.

  • Location: Fort Collins, CO
  • Duration: Timeline varies
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $476 per credit

Drexel University

Drexel University offers a part-time, two-year pre-medical certificate program for students with non-science undergraduate degrees who want to pursue a health professions career. Designed with working students in mind, this program fulfills the prerequisite science courses required for admission by most medical schools, including dental, physician assistant, veterinary, or other health profession colleges. Taught by Drexel College of Medicine faculty, this program also offers free MCAT preparation in the final semester.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Tuition: $1,003 per credit

How Long Does it Take to Become a Dermatologist?

Before seeing any patients on their own, dermatologists receive nearly a decade of post-secondary education and training. Dermatologists can expect to spend at least four years earning a bachelor’s degree, four years in medical school, one year in an internship, and a minimum of three years in residency. Dermatologists wanting to specialize in dermatopathology, Mohs surgery, or pediatric dermatology can expect to spend an additional year in a specialized residency program to gain experience. Additional time may be needed to study for medical licensing or board examinations.

Considering all the educational and professional requirements, students wanting to become a physician or a surgeon of dermatology should expect to spend 12 to 14 years earning degrees and experience through required experiential learning programs.

How To Become a Dermatologist – Step-by-Step Guide

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

Aspiring dermatologists must earn a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, or a pre-med degree program. Students should take as many courses in science and calculus as possible, as well as psychology, anatomy, and physiology, and keep their grades high as admission into medical school can be competitive.

Step Two: Pass the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

Before finishing a bachelor’s degree, most students study for the MCAT which is required for admission into medical school. The MCAT is a 7.5-hour exam covering biology, chemistry, psychology, and critical analysis.

Step Three: Go to Medical School (Four Years)

Medical school applicants should look for schools accredited by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). During medical school, students complete the first two parts of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE).

Step Four: Complete a Dermatology Internship (One Year)

Students are advised to seek internships and subsequent dermatology residency programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

Step Five: Complete a Dermatology Residency Program (Three to Four Years)

Those who want to pursue a specialty area such as dermatopathology, Mohs surgery, or pediatric dermatology can pursue additional fellowship training opportunities.

Step Six: Get a Medical License (Timeline Varies)

After residency and fellowships are complete, dermatologists are eligible to take the third and final exam of the USMLE to earn a medical license.

Step Seven: Earn Board Certification (Timeline Varies)

Dermatologists who have completed their educational, residency, fellowship, and licensure requirements can apply for board-certification by the American Board of Dermatology or the American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology.

What Do Dermatologists Do?

Typical responsibilities of a dermatologist will vary due to specialization and location of practice as well as years of experience. Most dermatologists are responsible for:

  • Communicating diagnosis, treatment, and prescription information to patients
  • Keeping organized notes for patients and clinical staff
  • Visually assessing skin conditions
  • Using manual dexterity to collect biopsy samples
  • Examining tissues under a microscope
  • Problem-solving skills for treating recurrent issues with skin, hair, and nails

Dermatologist Certifications & Licensure

After graduating from medical school, physicians must apply for a medical license if they wish to practice. The U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) measures knowledge, concepts, and patient-centered skills for safe and effective medical care. After passing this three-step exam, applicants may apply for an unrestricted medical license in the United States.

Once a medical license is earned, dermatologists can earn board-certification from the American Board of Dermatology or the American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology. Having board certification ensures that a dermatologist has received rigorous and high-quality educational training and clinical experiences. Board-certified dermatologists have the letters FAAD after their name, which stands for Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

How Much Do Dermatologists Make?

Dermatologist salaries vary widely based on cost-of-living in a specific location, years of experience, and areas of specialization. Physicians and surgeons, including dermatologists, earn average annual salaries that are higher than the national average for all occupations which is currently $53,490 (BLS May 2019).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019) reports that the average annual salary for the 390,680 physicians and surgeons (including dermatologists) is $203,450. Here were the salary percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $60,910
  • 25th percentile: $112,210
  • 50th percentile (median): $206,500
  • 75th percentile: >$208,000
  • 90th percentile: >$208,000

Please note that the BLS typically does not give specific figures for salaries that exceed $208,000.

However, salary data from the US News & World Report (2019) states the average dermatologist salary in the United States was $419,000. (2020), a website of self-reported aggregated salary data, states that 313 dermatologists listed their salaries which average out to $258,402.

Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond


Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).

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