I've gotten a ton of questions in my social posts on how to become a Dermatologist, so I'll break it down in this post. First, why do so many people ask about dermatology? Dermatology is one of the most competitive medical fields out there because it is a very appealing specialty in so many ways. I would consider dermatology to be one of the more “happier fields” in medicine because most patients are overall healthy with issues that can quickly and/or easily be symptomatically addressed with prescription medicines or treatments.
Frequently, diagnoses can be made by just looking at the skin, which makes things easier for the doctor. Additionally, it’s a well-rounded specialty incorporating a variety of aspects of medicine including surgery, pathology, oncology, pediatrics, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, aesthetics, and much more. One of my favorite aspects of dermatology is the idea that the skin is a window to what is going on internally. A lot of initial signs of internal disease can first manifest on the skin. Conditions like psoriasis can indicate impending coronary artery disease and skin tags can indicate insulin resistance and pre-diabetes.
Getting into dermatology is a long road and it should be something that you feel passionate about so that you stay motivated on your journey. I think your overall performance in medical school is one of the biggest determinants to help you get into derm residency, but I do think that the work ethic and studies you undergo starting in high school can really help create the right foundation for you to succeed in medical school. I’ll break my advice down to each stage of education.
Before you read further, I want to encourage anyone who wants to pursue derm to never give up hope. If being a dermatologist is a field you truly want to be a part of.
I recommend excelling in your classes as much as you can. Choose AP courses or courses that really challenge you.
During your summer breaks or afternoons, consider volunteering in a medical setting, like the hospital or clinic. I volunteered at a local ER and helped triage patients. If you are interested in medical school, it’s good to get a taste early.
Read a lot, like for fun. Reading and comprehension are invaluable skills in whatever life choice you make.
Also it’s high school – have fun with your friends!
Once again, excel and study in all your classes to the best of your ability, especially your science classes.
In terms of what to major in college, I think it's “easier” and efficient to major in a science like biology because it overlaps a lot with the pre-medical requirements. (By the way, “pre-med” is not a major – they are a list of requirements needed when applying to med school.) However, in retrospect, I wish I majored in a non-science major because you will get so much exposure to science for the rest of your life if you pursue medicine. A non-science focus can help keep you grounded and be a more well-rounded person. It might be a little bit harder to complete all of your requirements, but it's definitely doable and I think it's worth it in the long run.
Participate in clubs and activities that you enjoy. I would also consider leadership positions in an organization you feel passionate about.
Get more exposure to the field of medicine to make sure that this is the path that you want to take. See if you can shadow doctors or volunteer in the hospital. Another great way to get experience is volunteering on a medical mission trip to an underserved area or country.
See if you can get some research experience. If you are passionate about a certain subject in science, talk to your professor and see if they have any research projects available.
Don't forget to keep up with your hobbies and keep up with your friendships. You want to remain a well-rounded person with a good support system.
By the way, I guess it can always help if you get into a big-name college or medical school, but I wouldn't get so hung up on this. I think it's more important to show that you are motivated, disciplined, well-rounded, and academically successful at whatever school you go to. I say this as someone who went to a small liberal arts school (Centenary College) and went to a state school (LSU in New Orleans). Even though these aren’t “big names” the education was amazing, and I’m so thankful for my experiences there.
You made it to med school! How you do during med school is going to be most closely examined in the dermatology residency application process.
It helps to go to a med school that has a dermatology residency program affiliated with it. This isn’t totally necessary, but it helps to make contacts and pursue research projects.
Speaking of research projects, having something published, even a small case report, is very helpful in the application process. It helps to start early and make the effort to reach out to faculty you’d like to work with.
Even if you don’t know what field of medicine you want to pursue, just do your best in every class. A lot of derm programs look at your ranking or if you are in Alpha Omega Alpha Society (usually top 10% or so of the med school class). By the way, I was not in AOA.
Also, when you do your best throughout the school year, it will make your life so much easier when it comes to prepping for the board exams. The content in your board exams contains too much information to cram in a short period of time. I found that it just helped to know the material really well from the get go because you might not see it again for 2 years until your board exam.
I recommend rotating at other derm programs to get more exposure and to meet people. This is something you can do in the beginning of your fourth year. When it comes to creating the ranking list for the match, it helps to put a real face to a name.
When you do your clinical rotations (whether it’s in derm or in your required clinical rotations), it’s important to find the balance of being eager and helpful without being crazy. People want to see that you are “normal” (I mean relatable) and can work well in a team.
Derm Residency Interviews
Congrats if you get an interview! It only takes one interview to get into derm. Now is the chance to show your personality. People want to see that you are personable (I mean, you kind of have to be if your career involves interacting with people all day long) and someone who is ideal to work with.
Remember to be early and prepared. Know everything you put in your application.
Send thank you notes ideally the same day of the interview.
If you don’t get into derm residency, but you know deep down in your heart you want to be a dermatologist, I would not give up hope. You will be a dermatologist. You may have to take an extra research year or do a clinical fellowship, but you will get there.
And as a final reminder, please keep everything in perspective and understand what is most important to you. I don't recommend sacrificing your health or your relationships when taking this journey. It’s a lot of work, but you need your health and your support group to be there for you along the way.