How to Become a Dermatologist: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated on January 9, 2024


Many people dream of having a career in medicine. Becoming a dermatologist, a doctor who diagnoses and treats conditions related to skin, hair, and nails, is a particularly rewarding path. However, the journey requires many years of education and training. First, you must complete a bachelor’s degree, typically focusing your studies on biology, chemistry, and related sciences. Next, you’ll need to be accepted to and graduate from medical school, which takes another four years. After that, you must complete a residency in dermatology, which the American Academy of Dermatology states involves at least three years of specialized training. If you’re willing to commit over a decade to education and training, a career as a dermatologist may be right for you.

What is a Dermatologist?

A dermatologist is a medical doctor specializing in skin, hair, and nail-related diseases after completing medical school, an internship, and 3-4 years of residency training in dermatology ( Experts can diagnose and treat over 3,000 conditions affecting the integumentary system.

Common responsibilities and focus areas include:

What do Dermatologists do?

So, what exactly does a dermatologist do? Dermatologists are skin care experts who diagnose and treat various skin, hair, and nail conditions. Daily, dermatologists may see patients with issues like acne, eczema, psoriasis, skin cancer, or cosmetic skin concerns.

Specifically, some of the key tasks and responsibilities of a dermatologist include:

Dermatologists usually begin their day seeing scheduled patients in a clinic. However, they may also perform procedures, conduct research, or handle patient follow-ups later in the day. Some dermatologists choose to specialize in a specific area, like cosmetic dermatology, pediatric dermatology, or dermatopathology.

Educational Requirements for Becoming a Dermatologist

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step toward becoming a dermatologist is earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited 4-year university. While any major is acceptable, it’s recommended to major in biology, chemistry, or another science-related field to prepare for the rigors of medical school. Coursework should include organic chemistry, physics, mathematics, and English classes. Once you’ve completed an undergraduate program, you must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) exam. Learn more about the MCAT at the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Obtain a Medical Degree

After completing your bachelor’s degree, the next requirement is to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. This involves applying and gaining acceptance to a medical school program, which generally takes four years to complete. The first two years focus on classroom instruction in areas like pathology, biochemistry, anatomy, medical ethics, and more. The final two years comprise clinical rotations and hands-on work with real patients under physician supervision.

Complete a Residency in Dermatology

Once you earn your MD or DO, the next step is to complete a residency training program in dermatology. This specialized training lasts 3-4 years and provides supervised experience diagnosing and treating diseases and conditions related to skin, hair, and nails. Residencies also involve conducting research and honing dermatological surgery skills. The American Academy of Dermatology Association provides a directory of residency programs in this field.

Postgraduate Training for Dermatologists

After medical school, aspiring dermatologists must complete:

Becoming a licensed dermatologist requires at least 7-8 years of intensive postgraduate training, including residency and optional focused fellowship. This specialized education and testing ensures dermatologists are highly qualified to treat conditions related to the integumentary system.

Licensure and Certification

After a bachelor’s degree and four years of medical school, aspiring dermatologists must:

This extensive licensure and certification process spanning eight-plus years ensures dermatologists have specialized expertise in caring for skin, nail, and hair disorders. Meeting standardized benchmarks prepares them to diagnose and treat various dermatologic conditions effectively.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Dermatologist

Key Skills

Important Qualities

Dermatologists rely on sharp observational skills to diagnose conditions and steady hands to operate. Comprehensive medical knowledge and strong patient communication enable effective treatment plans. Passion for staying updated on advancements, patience, and empathy contribute to success.

Dermatologist Salary

Dermatologists are among the highest-paid physicians in the healthcare industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for dermatologists in the United States was $381,530 as of 2020. This high salary reflects the long years of education and training required to become a licensed dermatologist.

Here is an overview of how a dermatologist’s salary typically correlates with years of experience:

Experience LevelAverage Salary
Less than 1 year$200,000
1-4 years$240,000
5-9 years$280,000
10-19 years$320,000
20 or more years$360,000

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Private practice

Hospitals and academic medical centers

Government organizations

Pharmaceutical companies

Cosmetic industry

Dermatologists have opportunities across clinical settings and corporate roles, leveraging their specialized expertise in skin conditions and treatments. They can progress into leadership roles through research, academia, or practice ownership. The field offers diverse career advancement possibilities while focused on skin health.


Pursuing a career as a dermatologist requires a commitment to over eight years of education—a bachelor’s degree, medical school, and a specialized residency program. However, those with a strong interest in science and skin care can find the dedication worthwhile for the ability to diagnose and treat various conditions, earn a $200K+ salary, and address new challenges daily. With a focus on high grades, test scores, and hands-on training, individuals can achieve this goal and make an impact through the constantly in-demand field of dermatology.

Additional Resources

Resource Website Description
American Academy of Dermatology Extensive information on dermatology careers, education requirements, and training programs.
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Resources for those considering specialization in dermatologic surgery.
Society for Pediatric Dermatology Information and resources related to pediatric dermatology.
American Medical Association Guidance and advice for individuals pursuing a medical career, including medical school and residency applications.
Association of American Medical Colleges Administers the MCAT and offers MCAT preparation materials and timelines for test registration.


How much does a dermatologist make?
The average salary for a dermatologist in the United States is around $300,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics salary data. However, salaries can range from around $200,000 for those just starting to over $400,000 for dermatologists with many years of experience. Generally speaking, dermatologists rank among the highest-paid medical specialties.

What degree do you need to become a dermatologist?
Becoming a dermatologist requires extensive education and training. After completing a bachelor’s degree, aspiring dermatologists must attend four years of medical school to earn their MD or DO. Subsequently, they must complete a one-year internship followed by at least three years of residency training in dermatology. Becoming eligible for dermatology board certification takes about 8-10 years of higher education after high school.

How competitive is getting into a dermatology residency?
Getting into a dermatology residency program is highly competitive. Dermatology is one of the most competitive specialties in medicine—in 2020, there were just over 400 slots in dermatology residency programs in the United States for U.S. senior medical school graduates, while over 800 students applied, making the acceptance rate under 50% [1]. Strong grades in medical school, excellent board exam scores, research experience, and strong faculty recommendations are essential.

What are the day-to-day responsibilities of a dermatologist?
Dermatologists diagnose and treat more than 3,000 different conditions related to skin, hair, and nails. This includes identifying skin cancers and precancerous growths, treating chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, performing skin biopsies, carrying out cosmetic procedures, and more. A typical day may involve examining patients, performing procedures like skin cancer removals in the office, interpreting test results, documenting patient care, and consulting with other physicians.

Do you need to do a fellowship to specialize as a dermatologist?
While a one-year internship and three-year dermatology residency are the minimum requirements to become a board-certified dermatologist, many dermatologists choose to pursue an additional one to two years of advanced fellowship training in a dermatology subspecialty like pediatric dermatology, dermatopathology, immunodermatology, Mohs surgery, cosmetic dermatology, or laser medicine. These allow dermatologists to gain expertise in treating specific conditions or using certain techniques. However, they are optional.