Become a Clinical Dermatologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a clinical dermatologist. Research the education requirements, training and licensure information and experience required for starting a career in clinical dermatology.

Should I Become a Clinical Dermatologist?

Skin doctors, or clinical dermatologists, are trained to diagnose and treat a variety of skin conditions, including pigment disorders, rosacea and acne. Duties include examining skin, nails and hair for abnormalities; administering and prescribing treatments; and performing skin-related surgical procedures, including laser surgery and cryosurgery. A great deal of patience and tact is often called for when working with patients who suffer from these types of health issues.

Extensive schooling and training is required to become a dermatologist. Undergraduate degrees generally take four years to complete, medical school usually takes another four years, and a residency can take as long as four to eight years, depending on the facility and residency program. Medical education is generalized until the aspiring dermatologist's second year of residency, at which point training focuses more on dermatology. State licensure is required.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Doctor of Medicine
Degree Field Pre-med degrees can include chemistry, biology, or math
Experience Internships and volunteer positions may advance education and career
Licensure Must pass state licensure exam. Board certification is not required, but preferred.
Key Skills Warm bedside manner, attention to detail, communication skills, patience, critical thinking skills, strong leadership skills, quick thinking, manual dexterity
Salary $201,936 (2015 median annual salary for all dermatologists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Academy of Dermatology, Cleveland Clinic,

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring dermatologists are required to attend an undergraduate school before they can apply to medical school. Although some schools offer pre-med programs, there is no specific major required by medical schools. At minimum, students must take inorganic and organic chemistry, biology and physics. Although most who apply to medical school have bachelor's degrees, some have advanced degrees.

Success Tips:

  • Complete an American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) application. Most medical schools use the AMCAS application as their main method of receiving applications for first-year students. This standardized application allows students to complete one online application to submit to any number of medical schools. Transfer applicants and students with advanced standing can contact medical schools directly to find out how to apply.
  • Get involved in activities while earning a bachelor's degree. Most medical schools prefer applicants who have a record of participating in extracurricular activities since this demonstrates commitment and leadership. Volunteering at a hospital or local clinic can demonstrate similar qualities while allowing students to gain healthcare experience.

Step 2: Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a major requirement for getting into medical school. The MCAT is a standardized, multiple choice test that is divided into three sections, including biological sciences, physical sciences and verbal reasoning. Most students take the exam the year before applying to medical school. Although most students take the MCAT in the spring or summer of their junior year, the most important factor is that they be prepared for the exam.

Step 3: Go to Medical School

Medical school generally takes four years to complete. Students spend the first two years taking lecture and laboratory classes in subjects such as psychology, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology and medical ethics. During the final two years, students work under the supervision of experienced doctors in a clinic or hospital setting. Students rotate among specialties such as dermatology, family practice, internal medicine, psychiatry, surgery and pediatrics. This provides students with supervised experience in treating patients and diagnosing illnesses in various specialties.

Step 4: Earn a Medical License

All physicians in the United States are required to be licensed in the state in which they practice. Licensure requirements vary from state to state, but generally include graduating from medical school and completing an accredited residency program in the doctor's specialty. Doctors also must take and pass either the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA). Individuals can take parts one and two of these three-part exams while in medical school. The third and final part is taken after graduating.

Success Tip:

  • Complete continuing education requirements. Most states require doctors to complete a set number of continuing education units or hours before renewing their medical licenses. Licensed doctors should check with their state to determine how many hours are needed and what types of courses can be taken to fulfill the requirement.

Step 5: Complete an Internship and a Residency Program

After completing one year of broad clinical training in an internship, aspiring dermatologists are eligible to enter an accredited dermatology residency program. Dermatology residencies offer a combination of education and hands-on experience in all areas that are pertinent to dermatology. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) mandates for each year of residency, about 75% of that time must be spent on activities related to direct dermatologic patient care. Examples include patient consultations, inpatient rounds and attending clinical conferences. Training is designed to teach basic professionalism, the fundamentals of forming a differential diagnoses, principles of wound care, diagnostic procedures such as skin scrapings and the ability to perform dermatological surgical procedures, including electrosurgery and skin biopsies.

A dermatology residency typically takes three years to complete and admission is highly competitive. The American Medical Association estimates that there are about 100 dermatology residency programs in the U.S. Each program has 1-3 open spots and usually receives at least 250 applications.

Step 6: Consider Pursuing Board Certification

Although board certification is not required, board certification offers a competitive edge and increases opportunities for employment. After completing a residency program, licensed clinical dermatologists may choose to undergo examinations to earn voluntary board certification. The American Board of Dermatology, Inc. and the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology are the two boards that grant certification to dermatologists in the U.S.

Success Tip:

  • Keep up-to-date with advancements in the field. Board-certified dermatologists must re-take the board examinations every 10 years to demonstrate competency in the latest advancements in dermatology. Clinical dermatologists can keep abreast of the latest advancements in the field by attending conferences, completing advanced education courses and reading dermatology-specific medical journals.
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