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A Dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in the physiology and pathology of the skin (dermatology). A dermatologist comes into play when certain parts of the skin are not functioning properly. Commonly known as a skin doctor, a dermatologist can help patients with a wide range of problems or concerns. Teenagers suffering from acne to middle-aged men with pattern baldness are all common patients in a dermatologist's office. The extent of their knowledge is a wonder in itself, while the countless years of studying and schooling to achieve such success is beyond admirable.

Skin is one of the most amazing body parts that God has equipped humans with. Unknown to many, the skin is actually an organ. It is the largest and most exposed organ of the human body, and therefore, requires proper attention and care. Since it is the body's first line of defense against disease and infection, when it becomes compromised it is crucial to seek the knowledge of a professional.


For centuries there have been skin complications and problems among humans. Although the actual study of dermatology did not come about until the nineteenth century, the curing of skin problems dates back as early as the 1500's. One example being the Ancient Egyptians, who used arsenic on the skin to kill cancer. They also used animal oils, salt, and alabaster, along with sour milk to improve the appearance of the skin. The famous Cleopatra took scheduled milk baths to produce softer skin. The Greeks and Romans also had many regiments designed to improve the cosmetic appeal of skin. Pumice, frankincense, myrrh, and tree resins were used to lighten skin, remove freckles, and smooth wrinkles. Another important role in skin treatment is light. The Ancient Egyptians were the first recorded group of people to make use of the sunlight. They used it to cure certain skin disorders. As time went on, many European physicians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries found light as a major aid in the treatment of psoriasis and eczema. In the 1950's the new development of the laser benefited dermatologists immensely. The new technology was used to treat several skin conditions. The progression of the laser over the years has led to major medical monuments in dermatology. There are now laser treatments for tattoo removal, hair removal, skin tightening, stretch marks, hair transplantation, and many other reconstructive procedures.[1]As time goes on, researchers continue to find countless new ways to improve the appearance of skin and keep it in the best shape possible.

Job Description

Anatomy of the skin.

Upon first hearing the term dermatologist, the words skin doctor come to mind. That is absolutely correct, but unknown to many people, a dermatologist's job description actually entails many areas of expertise. The first and foremost job of a dermatologist is to treat and diagnose diseases of the skin. This includes doing things like examining skin, taking blood samples and smears from affected areas, and prescribing and administrating the appropriate medications and treatments to patients.[2]

After a complete examination, the dermatologist will help the patient in any way that he or she feels adequate. People with allergies, chronic conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis may also be surprised to know they can see a doctor of this specialty for care. One of the most common types of cancer is also treatable by dermatologists. Skin cancer can be deadly if not taken care of immediately. A dermatologist's role is to diagnose and surgically remove tumors and suspicious moles. Biopsies are also very common in the offices of dermatologists.[3]

A dermatologist's office can range from a variety of places. House calls are sometimes offered, but the normal is working in a private practice, clinic, or hospital. A typical dermatologist will work full time, as well as being on call weekends. In fact, many dermatologists work in hospitals and spend long hours around countless patients. Typically, the ones working in hospitals are properly named dermasurgeons. They are the doctors who perform procedures such as laser surgery, liposuction, and hair transplants. Basically, anything in which a patient will need to be administered anesthesia. One very important branch of dermatology is the pediatric branch. Specific dermatologists are assigned to treat young children and babies who are more susceptible to skin conditions.[4]

Required Education

Based on the wide range of the field of dermatology, it is expected that the path to becoming a dermatologist is quite extensive. Some would even say that dermatologists never stop learning. Their knowledge continues to expand even after completing the required, or typical, amount of training. Those who have the determination and desire to go into this medical field should be praised for their never-ending effort to achieve such a goal.

First off, a solid high school education is the base for anyone wanting to pursue a medical career. Colleges encourage high school students to take numerous math and science classes in order to prepare them for what lies ahead. After high school, one must enroll in a college that usually specializes in the study of medicine. After completing college and getting a Bachelor of Science degree, or in some cases, being a Bachelor of Arts graduate, the student is ready to be accepted into medical school. It is important to note that not all medical schools require a bachelor's degree. Some students can get accepted after two years of undergraduate study if they have shown continuous effort and have good marks. The next step is to volunteer in a hospital or nursing home. It is not required, but this experience is valuable in learning what it is like to help others. Not to mention, it will look even better on a transcript. Now it is time to enter the medical school. This process usually takes about four years. After graduation, the student will receive the title Medical Doctor (MD) and be required to complete another five years of dermatology at a university. Three of those years have to be spent as a resident. These years are crucial to the student because they will learn the fundamentals of skin, hair, nails, and mucus membranes. These are basics, but essentially more in depth. Once this entire process has been completed, the next step is passing the required tests and licensing examinations. As with any medical job, a licensure from the regional licensing authority must be obtained before any dermatologist begins helping patients.[5]

Expected Salary

Keeping in mind the above information about how much schooling and effort it takes to become a dermatologist, it is probable that these doctors make a large salary. The estimated salary of a dermatologist in 2008, was between $287,832 and $385,953. The actual number will fluctuate based on experience and place of employment, but that is the rough estimate.[6] The vast field that dermatology covers is also a huge contributor to the reason this much money is made. To recap, a dermatologist can be any of the following: pediatric dermatologist, dermasurgeon, medical doctor, or doctor of osteophoty.[7] That is an astonishing amount of jobs and education required to fulfill them! The salary listed above is for dermatologists that are not self employed. They would also most likely receive benefits such as paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans. Dermatologists who are self-employed arrange their own benefits.[8] Either way, this occupation is worth while for those who are willing to handle the tedious years of schooling.

Normal Procedures

An image of a cancerous mole caused by too much sun exposure.

Since the skin makes up so much of the body, it is vital to keep it in the best shape possible. It is the first thing noticed by others and even the slightest imperfection can affect a person's confidence. The most common and repeated information given out by dermatologists is to wash properly and avoid too much sun exposure. Although the sun is beneficial to the skin and body, it has harmful UVB and UVA rays that can lead to premature aging and skin cancer. The ultraviolet rays are an invisible form of radiation. They can penetrate the skin and damage the cells. Overlooking these facts can lead to dire consequences sometimes even unnoticeable ones. A nice tan for a week does not cancel out a lifetime of wrinkles, sunspots, and even cancer.[9] Unfortunately, not everyone is so cautious of these facts. When people experience problems with the skin, they are able to see a dermatologist who nine out of ten times, will have a procedure to cure the person's needs. Listed below are some of the most common procedures performed by dermatologists and the uses of those procedures.

  • Laser Surgery-This procedure is somewhat painful and works by vaporizing a layer of skin in order to expose a new layer that is more natural-looking. The process can be performed in a hospital or a dermatologists office, with a general anesthesia given. Altogether, the proceed lasts anywhere from a few minutes to an hour and a half. It is used to remove scars, tattoos, birthmarks, moles, and hair.[10]
  • Chemical Peel-A chemical peel can contain one to many types of chemicals, and works by separating and peeling the outer layers of skin. The procedure lasts only a few minutes, and takes place in a doctor's office. Sometimes an anesthesia may be given due to the stinging that may occur. The peel is most commonly used to reduce the appearance of fine lines, skin discoloration, freckling, slight sun damage, and scarring.[11]
  • Collagen Injection-This procedure is relatively straightforward, and takes place in the doctor's office. It lasts thirty to sixty minutes, and causes a slight puffiness that goes away in a few days after the appointment. The type of collagen used will be determined by the doctor, but its general use is to reduce the appearance of laugh lines, wrinkles, creases, acne, and scars.[12]
  • Dermabrasion-This process works by sanding away damaged skin. As the sanded skin heals, the new skin appears smoother and clearer. The procedure can be quite painful and requires at least a week of downtime afterwards. It can be combined with other skin treatments, but is primarily used to reduce the appearance of scars, wrinkles, tattoos, acne, and to brighten the skin's complexion.[13]

These are just a few of the most common procedures that dermatologists offer. The diversity of ways that the skin can be treated is quite amazing. Whether one is wanting a quick painless fix to a more imbrassive treatment, they are sure to find it in a dermatologist's office.