Dermatologist

A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in treating the:

  • Skin.
  • Hair.
  • Nails.
  • Mucous membranes (e.g., lining inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids.)

Dermatologists diagnose and treat more than 3,000 different diseases. These diseases include skin cancer, eczema, acne, psoriasis, and nail infections.

Dermatologists also improve the appearance of their patients’ skin, hair, and nails. For example, a dermatologist can help patients:

  • Diminish wrinkles, age spots, and other signs of aging.
  • Have less noticeable acne scars.
  • Look more like themselves after surgery to remove skin cancer.

Dermatologists see patients of all ages — from newborns to people older than 100 years of age.

How to become a dermatologist

Becoming a dermatologist requires many years of education. A person must successfully complete the following:

  1. College, earning a bachelor’s degree.
  2. Medical school, becoming a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO).
  3. Internship, 1 year.
  4. Dermatology residency program, at least 3 years.

Board Certified Dermatologist

To be a board-certified dermatologist in the United States requires many years of education. One must successfully complete:

  1. College, earning a bachelor’s degree.
  2. Medical school, becoming a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO).
  3. Internship, 1 year of required medical training.
  4. An accredited dermatology residency program, at least 3 years.

After successfully completing the residency program, one can become a board-certified dermatologist by:

  • Having a license to practice medicine.
  • Passing the exams given by the American Board of Dermatology, the American Osteopathic Association, or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
  • Meeting other requirements.

The board exams test the doctor’s knowledge, experience, and skills. All of the above are essential to provide quality patient care in dermatology.             

At one time, a dermatologist who passed the board exams was board-certified for life. Due to advances in medicine, dermatologists who more recently passed the board exams are required to retake the board exams every 10 years. Even dermatologists who are not required to retake the board exams often choose to retake the exams. Passing shows that the dermatologist has kept up to date with advances in medicine.

A few ways that dermatologists keep up to date are by attending advanced medical education courses and reading medical journals, such as the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

What does FAAD after a doctor’s name mean?

Most board-certified dermatologists in the United States are members of the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy). Dermatologists indicate this by placing FAAD after their names.

FAAD stands for “Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.”

To be a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology (FAAD), a dermatologist must:

  • Have a license to practice medicine.
  • Pass the board exams given by either the American Board of Dermatology or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
  • Be a member of the Academy.

When using Find a Dermatologist on this website, you may see FAAD or fellow. FAAD and fellow mean the same thing.

Other designations that you may see when using Find a Dermatologist on this website are:

Associate: This is a dermatologist who:

  • Successfully completed an accredited dermatology residency program and is eligible to take the board exams given by the American Board of Dermatology or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
  • Is a member of the Academy.

Affiliate: This is a dermatologist who:

  • Has become either: 1) a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) and is board-certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology or 2) a medical doctor (MD) and received board certification in dermatology by a board outside the United States or Canada.
  • Is a member of the Academy.

Cosmetic Dermatologist

The term “cosmetic dermatologist” often causes confusion. To understand this term, it helps to know that all dermatologists receive training in:

  • Medical dermatology: Diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases that affect the skin, hair and nails.
  • Dermatopathology: Diagnose diseases that affect the skin, hair, and nails by removing a sample and examining the sample with a microscope.
  • Surgical dermatology: Treat diseases that affect the skin, hair, and nails by using a surgical procedure.
  • Cosmetic dermatology: Treat the skin, hair, or nails using a treatment that is meant to improve a patient’s appearance rather than treat a disease.

Many dermatologists perform all of the above. Examples of treatments dermatologists perform that fall into the area of cosmetic dermatology include:

  • Surgery to diminish acne scars.
  • Injecting fillers and botulinum toxins to give an aging face a more youthful appearance.
  • Laser surgery to diminish or remove small veins, age spots, tattoos, or wrinkles.
               

What it takes to become a cosmetic dermatologist

One can practice cosmetic dermatology by becoming a dermatologist. To become a dermatologist requires many years of education. A person must successfully complete:

  1. College, earning a bachelor’s degree.
  2. Medical school, becoming a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO).
  3. Internship, 1 year.
  4. Residency program in dermatology, at least 3 years.

After becoming a dermatologist, some doctors choose to continue their medical education. This advanced education is called a fellowship. A fellowship in procedural dermatology or cosmetic/aesthetic dermatology provides advanced surgical training.

A fellowship in procedural dermatology usually takes one year to complete. It includes training in medical and cosmetic surgery. During this fellowship, a dermatologist may develop advanced skills in:

  • Mohs (pronounced “moes”) surgery, specialized treatment for skin cancer.
  • Reconstructive surgery to treat wounds caused by surgery to remove skin cancer.
  • Injection of fillers and botulinum toxins.
  • Sclerotherapy (treatment for veins).
  • Chemical peels.
  • Hair transplantation.
  • Tumescent liposuction (removes small amount of fat while the patient remains awake).
  • Laser surgery.

Because dermatologists know so much about cosmetic surgery, they have made important contributions to this area of medicine. Dermatologists developed:

  • Tumescent liposuction, which greatly improves patient safety.
  • A way to transplant hair that gives patients a natural-looking hairline.
  • Advances in the use of many lasers.
  • Improvements in the use of fillers and botulinum toxins.

Doctors who do not receive training in cosmetic procedures during their residency also offer cosmetic procedures. Even aestheticians offer cosmetic procedures. It is important to know that the quality and safety of the procedure depends largely on the skill of the person performing the procedure.

Dermatopathologist:

To accurately diagnose your medical condition, your dermatologist may remove a tiny sample of your skin, hair, or nail. This sample is often examined by a dermatopathologist (dur-mat-uh-puhtholuh-jist).

A dermatopathologist is a medical doctor. This doctor specializes in dermatology and pathology. Pathology is a branch of medicine that studies causes and effects of diseases. Most pathology work takes place in a laboratory. A dermatopathologist diagnoses diseases of the skin, hair, and nails by looking at samples under a microscope.

How to become a dermatopathologist

Becoming a dermatopathologist requires many years of education. To become this type of medical doctor, a person must successfully complete the following:

  1. College, earning a bachelor’s degree.
  2. Medical school, becoming a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO).
  3. Internship, 1 year.
  4. Residency program in dermatology (at least 3 years) or pathology (at least 4 years).
  5. Medical fellowship, advanced study and training in dermatopathology (1 year), or residencies in both dermatology (usually 3 years) and pathology (usually 4 years).

Who is a board-certified dermatopathologist?

After completing the above medical study and training, the doctor must pass board exams in dermatopathology. After passing these exams and meeting other requirements, the doctor becomes a board-certified dermatopathologist.

Dermatopathologists work closely with dermatologists

While a dermatologist can often look at a patient and make an accurate diagnosis, some diseases require a closer look. Skin cancer is one of these diseases.

A dermatopathologist can provide this closer look. By looking at the sample under a microscope, the dermatopathologist can usually diagnose the disease.

The dermatopathologist will explain the findings in a written report called a biopsy or pathology report. This report will tell what disease was found. The report also provides other information that can help the dermatologist determine the best possible treatment for the patient.

Some dermatologists examine the samples they take from their patients. This is perfectly acceptable. During a dermatology residency, a dermatology resident learns dermatopathology. This training gives dermatologists the skills needed to examine their own samples.

Mohs Surgeon

If you are diagnosed with skin cancer, you may see a Mohs (pronounced “moes”) surgeon for treatment. A Mohs surgeon performs a type of surgery called Mohs surgery. This specialized surgery is used exclusively to treat skin cancer.

 

How to become a Mohs surgeon

Becoming a Mohs surgeon requires many years of education. To become this type of medical doctor, a person must successfully complete the following:

  1. College, earning a bachelor’s degree.
  2. Medical school, becoming a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO).
  3. Internship, 1 year.
  4. Residency program, such as one in dermatology (at least 3 years for dermatology).

Dermatologists are exposed to Mohs surgery during their residency (training to become a dermatologist). After completing their residency, some dermatologists continue their studies and receive advanced training in Mohs surgery. Some dermatologists complete a fellowship, specializing in Mohs surgery and reconstruction. A fellowship is a medical training program that offers in-depth advanced training.

Mohs surgery has many advantages, but it is not necessarily the right treatment for everyone who has skin cancer. A dermatologist considers many factors before determining which treatment will be best for each patient. These factors include the type of skin cancer, whether the cancer has spread, and where the skin cancer appears on the body.

Pediatric Dermatologist

If your child has a disease that affects the skin, hair, or nails, your child may see a pediatric dermatologist.

A pediatric dermatologist is a dermatologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating children, including newborns and infants. This medical doctor first becomes a dermatologist. Extra study and training are needed to become a pediatric dermatologist.  

Some diseases that affect the skin, hair, or nails are more common in children. Some of these diseases only occur in children. Diseases that a pediatric dermatologist is likely to treat include:

How to become a pediatric dermatologist

Becoming a pediatric dermatologist requires many years of education. To become this type of medical doctor, a person must successfully complete:

  1. College, earning a bachelor’s degree.
  2. Medical school, becoming a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO).
  3. Internship, 1 year.
  4. Residency program in dermatology (at least 3 years) and pass the board exams.
  5. Fellowship (advanced medical study and training) in pediatric dermatology (1 to 3 years).

Who is a board-certified pediatric dermatologist?

After successfully completing a fellowship in pediatric dermatology, the doctor can take the board exams. If the doctor passes these exams and meets other requirements, the doctor becomes a board-certified pediatric dermatologist.

All board-certified pediatric dermatologists are:

  • Board-certified in dermatology.
  • Board-certified in pediatric dermatology.

Some also are board-certified in pediatrics.

Organ transplant recipients benefit from seeing a dermatologist

After receiving an organ, a patient sees many medical specialists. A dermatologist plays an important role on this health-care team. The life-saving medicines that prevent organ rejection work by suppressing your immune system. This greatly increases your risk for developing skin cancer.

In organ-transplant recipients, skin cancer tends to be more aggressive. It can grow faster. It often spreads more quickly.

Receive thorough skin exams

Found early and properly treated, most of these skin cancers can be cured. Under a dermatologist’s care, an organ-transplant recipient receives total body exams. These exams play an important role in finding skin cancers in their earliest and most treatable stage.

Learn skills that can save your life

Organ-transplant recipients who see a dermatologist also learn skills that can be lifesaving. They learn how to:

  1. Perform skin self-exams to find skin cancer early: Learning how to perform a skin self-exam can help patients find skin cancer early. Organ-transplant recipients learn how to perform a thorough skin self-exam. The instructions may be tailored to a patient’s needs. For example, a patient may need to pay close attention to a specific area of the body. Organ-transplant recipients also may need to learn how to examine their lymph nodes.
  2. Protect your skin to reduce risk of getting skin cancer: Findings from research studies show that sun protection reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) after receiving an organ. SCC is the most common skin cancer in transplant recipients. Sun protection includes:
  • Applying sunscreen every day before going outdoors: Make sure the sunscreen is broad-spectrum, SPF 30+, and water-resistant.
  • Seeking shade: This is especially important when your shadow is shorter than you are.
  • Wearing clothing that protects your skin: You will learn how to select clothing that protects your skin from the sun. Some fabrics protect better than others do.
  • Wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat: You will learn how to select hats and sunglasses that protect you from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.

What dermatologists tell their patients who receive an organ
Never use a tanning bed, sunlamp, or other type of indoor-tanning equipment. Indoor tanning greatly increases your risk of developing skin cancer.

Never too late to benefit from dermatologist’s care

If you received an organ years ago, you can still benefit from being under a dermatologist’s care. Findings from research studies show that the risk of developing skin cancer increases each year after receiving an organ.

Some organ-transplant recipients develop many skin cancers. Some of these patients develop other skin conditions, including numerous warts and precancerous growths on their skin. A dermatologist can help you manage these skin conditions.

Attribution: Definitions on this page attributed to The American Academy of Dermatology