Identical to selecting a physician or specialist, deciding on a dermatologist isn’t a task one should take lightly. Learn how dermatologists get their degrees, what conditions they treat and seven ways to pick the right one.
Education and training
Ever wonder how a dermatologist earns that framed diploma on the wall? Like other types of doctors, dermatologists require training and instruction in college and medical school. They also receive further specialized background in skin, hair and nail health. This entire process of becoming a dermatologist can take about 11 years.
- Undergraduate degree. Typically, when a future dermatologist goes to college, he or she majors in a science field like biology.
- MCAT. Students usually take this Medical College Admission Test after their third year of college.
- Medical school. After earning an undergraduate degree and passing the MCAT with flying colors, a future dermatologist enters medical school, where classes focus on biology, chemistry, physiology, pathology and surgery.
- Residency. Students must attend at least four years of a post-graduate residency program for additional training in the fields of hair, skin and nails. Following the residency program, students take exams like the American Board of Dermatology Examinations.
Within dermatology, a variety of sub-specialties exist, including pediatric dermatology, cosmetic dermatology and immunodermatology.
Conditions dermatologists treat
Dermatologists care for many types of skin, hair and nail problems in women, men and children. These range from cosmetic problems, like acne and wrinkles, to more dangerous conditions, such as skin infections and skin cancer.
- Skin problems: acne, skin cancer, eczema, moles, psoriasis, rash, rosacea, ringworm, scars, sunspots, warts and wrinkles.
- Hair problems: hair loss, hair thinning, head lice, dry hair or excessive facial/body hair.
- Nail problems: dryness, brittleness, bumps, ridges or spots; fungal infections.
7 tips for the selection process
Now that you understand what it takes to become a dermatologist and the types of conditions these professionals treat, how do you determine which doctor to see? Here’s a hint — don’t pick a random doctor from the phone book with the biggest, fanciest ad. Always remember to do your homework and shop around.
Your primary care/family physician might suggest a dermatologist and give you a referral. Also, do you have friends, family or co-workers with similar skin conditions? Ask them for feedback about their dermatologist and what they like — and dislike — about him or her.
- Asking around.
Credentials. Check with a hospital or university physician directory and licensing board to confirm the dermatologist’s credentials. Where did he or she attend college and medical school? How about a residency or internship program? Any additional training?
Background. Research all you can about your dermatologist. For instance, check whether he or she's had any disciplinary actions or malpractice suits.
Insurance. Be sure that the dermatologist will accept your health insurance. Also, health insurance might not cover certain types of procedures that are considered cosmetic — that is, to improve appearance.
Location, location, location! Those in the real estate biz know this mantra, but it also applies to finding a dermatologist. It can be helpful to pick a doctor whose office is near your home and/or workplace, suggests About-Skin-Disorders. Consider that you’ll have to visit the dermatologist a number of times for a consultation, treatment sessions and follow-up evaluations. Think of the travel time involved and the cost of gas.
Patient reviews. Use the Internet to find patient satisfaction ratings for the doctor. Many Web sites and organizations will post these ratings and additional comments.
Specific expertise. Do you have a specific skin condition, like acne or hyperpigmentation? Are you considering a particular procedure for your skin, such as laser resurfacing or a facelift? Then you might seek a dermatologist who specializes in that exact condition or procedure. When choosing a dermatologist, it’s important to find out whether he or she has experience and/or training in your particular problem.
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