Education and Training Requirements

High School

Dermatologists, like all physicians, have completed a great deal of education. You should realize that after high school your education will continue on through college, medical school, and a residency in your specialty. In high school you can start preparing for both college and your medical studies by taking science classes such as biology, chemistry, physics, and anatomy. Mathematics classes, such as algebra and geometry, will give you experience in working with numbers and formulas, both important skills for this career. Make sure your high school education is well rounded and college preparatory by taking English and history classes as well as a foreign language. Also, psychology classes and other social science classes may give you a background in understanding people—an important skill for any doctor. Take this time to develop your study habits and determine how well you like the course of study.

Postsecondary Training

Your next step after high school is to earn a bachelor's degree, typically with a major in a science field such as biology or chemistry, from an accredited four-year college. Some schools may offer well-defined premedical courses of study, while others will allow you to structure your own education. In either case, your college studies should concentrate on the sciences, including biology, physics, organic chemistry, and inorganic chemistry. In addition, you should continue to take mathematics, English, and social science courses. Language classes, particular Latin, may help you in your medical school studies.

While you are in your second or third year of college, you should arrange with an adviser to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). All medical colleges in this country require this test for admission. After you receive your undergraduate degree, you can apply to one of the approximately 180 medical schools in the United States. The admissions process is very competitive and includes evaluation by a committee that considers grade point averages, MCAT scores, and recommendations from professors. Most premedical students apply to several medical schools long before graduation, and only about 10 percent of all applicants are accepted (although acceptance rates vary by medical school). Medical school study and training lasts four years, at the end of which you will earn the degree of doctor of medicine (M.D.). Visit to read Medical school 101, a useful resource from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

For the first two years of medical school, you will attend lectures and classes and spend time in laboratories. Courses include anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, pathology, medical ethics, and laws governing medicine. Medical students learn to take patient histories, perform examinations, and recognize symptoms. In their third and fourth years, medical students are involved in more practical studies. They work in clinics and hospitals supervised by physicians learning acute, chronic, preventive, and rehabilitative care. They go through rotations in internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery in which they practice and learn the skills of diagnosing and treating illnesses.

After medical school, all physicians must pass an examination given by the National Board of Medical Examiners in order to receive a license from the state in which they intend to practice. Most physicians then begin their residency to learn a specialty. Only about half of the applicants for the accredited residency programs in the United States are accepted, and dermatology is very competitive.

Residency training for dermatologists lasts a minimum of four years, three of which are spent specializing in dermatology. The first year is a clinical residency program in internal medicine, family practice, general surgery, or pediatrics. The next three years are spent studying and practicing dermatology. Residents are closely supervised as they study skin pathology, bacteriology, radiology, surgery, biochemistry, allergy and immunology, and other basics. Intensive laboratory work in mycology (the study of the fungi that infect humans) is usually required. Following the residency, dermatologists can become certified by the American Board of Dermatology and have full professional standing.

Other Education or Training

Dermatologists must continue to learn throughout their careers to keep their skills up to date, to learn about new diagnostic or treatment options, and to qualify for board certification or re-certification. The American Academy of Dermatology, American Medical Association, and other organizations provide classes, workshops, seminars, and webinars. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Certification in dermatology is provided by the American Board of Dermatology. Although certification is voluntary, it is strongly recommended. Certification demonstrates the physician's dedication to the field, assures patients of his or her educational qualifications, and affirms that the physician has met the American Board of Dermatology's standards to practice this specialty. To qualify for certification, you must have completed your residency and pass written and sometimes practical examinations given by the American Board of Dermatology. Certification is for a period of 10 years. Even after 11 years of study, dermatologists must continue to study throughout their careers in order to keep up with medical advances and retain board certification.

All physicians in the United States must be licensed to practice. Some states have reciprocity agreements with other states so that a physician licensed in one state may be automatically licensed in another without being required to pass another examination.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Experience is gained while in medical school and during hospital internships and residencies.

Medical school and the dermatological residency are filled with stress and pressure, and they are also physically demanding. Residents often work 24-hour shifts and put in as many as 80 hours a week. They need to be emotionally stable in order to handle the stress of this intense schedule. Other important traits for those working in this field are self-confidence because they make decisions on critical medical issues, keen observation skills, a detail oriented personality, and excellent memory. Physicians also need to be able to relate to people with compassion and understanding.