Dermatologist Job Description:
Dermatologists are physicians who see patients with diseases of the skin. This would include any diseases of hair, skin and nails. Dermatology also encompasses diseases like eczema, psoriasis, acne, warts, skin cancer, allergic rashes, itching, etc. Over the last 20 years or so, dermatologists have been trained in skin cancer surgery, and many of us are dermatopathologists as well.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, the field has become more cosmetically oriented with the cosmetic dermatologist being at the forefront of laser dermatology, chemical peels of various sorts, fillers and Botox injections. Some practices are more medically oriented, and some are more focused on cosmetic dermatology; many dermatologists do both.
Why did you decide to become a dermatologist?
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Early in medical school, I did a rotation in dermatology at a county hospital, and I fell in love with the field. I was amazed at how much one could diagnose from the skin. I also loved the out-patient setting, enjoyed seeing patients of all ages and found that dermatology combined what I liked about many other fields of medicine. I wanted to be in a specialty where I felt I could really be there for my patients, but also have a life outside the office, and this is one of the medical specialties where this is possible.
What were your career steps to become a dermatologist?
My undergraduate degree is in History of Religion, which at that time was an interdepartmental major at UCLA. But I also did most of the pre-med requirements during that time, and finished the rest during graduate school. I applied to many medical schools, mostly on the west and east coasts, and got into quite a few, but when I got into UCLA, that made the most sense, both for financial and personal reasons.
I got married at the beginning of medical school and ended up having three children during med school and my fourth during dermatology residency. I did research in dermatology (that appeared in a small publication) which helped me get accepted to the residency. Dermatology programs are very few and very small and, therefore, extremely competitive.
What do you like most about a career in dermatology?
I love the field of dermatology because it combines the best of other fields of medicine. There is clinical medicine, pathology, surgery and cosmetic dermatology. For the most part, I am seeing patients of all ages (newborns as well as a few patients who are 103!). It is a pleasure to see a teenager's acne clear up, and I have been able to diagnose melanoma on many occasions. Most of all, I love talking to and listening to people all day. I feel blessed to make a good living doing something that I enjoy.
From your career in dermatology, do you have any funny or memorable moments?
I once saw a young man who was concerned about a dark spot on his chest. I took a paper towel with soap and water and wiped it off! The diagnosis was "dirt," also called "retained keratin." Another time, while doing a surgical excision on a patient's forehead, two to three days after the big Northridge Earthquake in 1994, the whole building was swaying back and forth because of continuous aftershocks - it was a memorable experience.
Do you have any advice for people considering careers in dermatology?
First of all, one has to be very academically oriented and willing to delay gratification in order to go through medical school and residency training. To be a dermatologist, one has to enjoy being with people, have a good steady hand, be smart and compassionate, keep up with new technology and always keep learning - both about the field and about oneself.
Describe the average dermatologist salary.
A dermatologist salary ranges from $200K to $2 million. This would depend upon the setting in which one works (managed care vs. private practice), the city one works in, how much cosmetic dermatology one performs (e.g. laser, Botox, Restylane means cash up-front vs. medical dermatology, which might involve billing insurance companies for reimbursement) and how much one wants to work.
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