Abilities Needed to Become a Dermatologist

Dermatologists advise patients on protecting the skin.
Dermatologists advise patients on protecting the skin. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Dermatologists treat not only the skin, but also the nails and hair. They diagnose diseases, perform surgery and prescribe and administer treatments. Some dermatologists also perform cosmetic work, including botox injections, skin peels or dermabrasion. Dermatologists need special abilities to work closely with other people, master rigorous studies and pursue a demanding career.

Personal Abilities

Dermatologists need the ability to work well in close contact with others and to communicate well when advising and counseling patients. They need emotional stability and the desire to help others. Superior stamina and good health are necessary to withstand the rigors of medical training and to work many hours in a medical practice. They need good eyesight and manual dexterity to perform many hands-on procedures, including biopsies, skin surgery and the application of topical agents.

Academic Abilities

Prospective dermatologists need strong academic ability in math and English. They must have the ability to master difficult science classes, including chemistry, physics, biology, pathology, anatomy and microbiology. They also need good study habits and strong problem-solving skills.

Education and Training

Dermatologists must complete a four-year bachelor degree followed by four years of medical school. They need a year of residency in a specialty such as family practice or general surgery, plus a three-year accredited residency in dermatology. Similar to all physicians, they also must pass the medical licensing exams required by their state. Following their residency, they can pursue board certification from the American Board of Dermatology by passing an exam and fulfilling work requirements. The dermatology board also requires follow-up examinations every 10 years to stay certified.

Other Requirements

Like 12 percent of all physicians, some dermatologists are self-employed. These doctors need self-motivation and good business sense, in addition to the ability to work long hours. Because of continuing advances in their field of medicine, dermatologists need to commit to lifelong learning by attending continuing education classes and seminars over the term of their careers.


According to Salary.com, the median annual earnings of a dermatologist in the United States come to $249,988 as of March 2011. Dermatologists' salaries range from $206,365 per year at the 10th percentile to $309,199 at the 90th percentile. In addition, the typical dermatologist receives $8,077 in bonuses and $10,364 in Social Security benefits, for a total compensation package equal to $268,428 for the median earner. Although self-employed dermatologists often earn more, they must pay for their own benefits.

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