Is it hard to become a dermatologist? As with most things, there isn’t a straight answer. If we’re talking solely statistics, then yes. But remember, statistics apply to the population not to the individual. This is something that we often overlook. For example, the term percent is a composite of two words: ‘per’ and ‘cent’ (i.e. per 100).
If you want to skip the rest of the article, I’m completely convinced that anyone of normal intelligence can become a dermatologist with a good work ethic. So, yes, it might be hard work but is completely achievable. If you asked me another question such as “is it hard to be a professional footballer?” I’d say yes without any reservations. Case-in-point, around 180 children of the 1.5 million who play organised football at any one time will make it as a professional. This equals a pretty slim chance of 0.012%.
The steps you’ll need to take to become a dermatologist:
Nailing your GCSEs and A-Levels is no mean feat but will put you in the best position to get into medical school. Fun fact: I never went to a full week of school. Looking back on my shambolic attendance record, I’m surprised I wasn’t taken into care. I did, however, keep up with schoolwork even if I wasn’t the best at actually attending.
Medical school is becoming increasingly competitive. Being a straight-A student will no longer guarantee you a medical school place. Selection committees want to pick students who are well-rounded humans: this might mean extra-curricular sport or music. Being a good citizen who has committed to community service will always serve in your favour. It’s also useful to gain suitable work experience – spending a week in a GP surgery will give you an insight into what it’s like to work on the front line.
Speak to doctors – try and find a mentor who’ll help nurture your interest. This is often easier if you have family friends who are doctors. If you don’t, don’t stress – shoot us an email and we can usually advise.
Be tactical in your choice of medical schools to apply for. Even if you are the second coming of Bertrand Russell, it’s sensible to pick medical schools according to a set hierarchy of priorities.
I’d advise selecting based on:
a) personal preference of medical school;
b) best fit – this can mean the style of teaching, ethos of the institution, cost of living; and
c) competition – if you know that the school doesn’t consider BMAT scores under a certain threshold, don’t burn your application.
Once you’ve secured an interview, prepare, prepare, prepare. This is the highest stakes interview of your life and can be the most difficult hurdle to getting into medical school. It’s pretty easy for a panel to identify the candidate who’s put in the work. We recommend rehearsing (but not memorising) answers to all the common questions. Don’t be scared of the questions that you’ve not prepared for – we recommend using answer frameworks to help you formulate answers on the fly.
Medical school is the part of life which sets up your future career. While you still want to enjoy the process (and retain a functional liver post-Fresher’s week), doing well at medical school will help maximise your chance of getting a dermatology job. Lots of keen medical students take an extra year out (also known as intercalating) to study a particular field in more detail. They therefore graduate with two degrees in six years rather than only a medical degree in five years.
It’s not all about scoring top marks though – see our guide on getting the most out of your medical school years.
Junior doctor years
Phew! After all that work, it’s plain sailing now, right? Sadly not, after qualifying, you have to navigate the two-year Foundation Programme (FY1 + FY2) where you perform the role of a junior doctor. You’ll rotate through a range of specialties (such as internal medicine, surgery and a few others depending on your rotation). This is where you’ll actually learn the job by doing it. No-one really knows what they’re doing until they’re actually doing it. Thankfully, you’ll have senior support to lean on to help you take care of your patients.
After the Foundation Programme, most aspiring dermatologists will enter Internal Medicine Training. This is a further two years in which you spend time in various medical specialties such as cardiology, gastroenterology and respiratory medicine.
The bonus of being a junior doctor is that you’re getting paid. The problem is that you don’t have much spare time. Alongside this, you need to build up your CV to be in with a shout of getting a dermatology job. Perhaps due to lifestyle factors (e.g. you don’t have to spend weekends in a hospital, clinics are usually 9 – 5pm and there’s lots of private work available), dermatology is competitive. While the numbers vary, there’s usually 4 junior doctors applying for one post. In order to be competitive, you’ll need to present cases, publish work and demonstrate your commitment to becoming a dermatologist. You’ll also need to pass the Membership of the Royal College of Physicians exam in order to be eligible to progress.
See our guide on what a junior doctor needs to do to get to the next stage.
Dermatology training (Specialist Registrar)
You’ve made it to the promised land! From here on out, assuming you don’t attack your consultant or maim anyone, you should be safe to become a consultant after four years of training (ST3/ST4/ST5/ST6). During these years, you’ll cover a comprehensive syllabus to make you an expert in all-things-skin. You’ll rotate through all the subspecialties – this will include skin surgery, paediatric dermatology and biologics clinics. By the time you’ve finished, you’ll likely have found what you like. For me, I’m quite geeky and decided to specialise in dermatopathology (looking at skin biopsies under the microscope). If you have a good pair of hands, you might like to specialise in skin surgery. I enjoy diagnosing skin diseases from a distance and so came up with the idea of skindoc while still in training. This has developed into one of the most enjoyable parts of my working day.
After a grand total of five years as an undergraduate (six if you intercalate), two years of Foundation programme, two years of Internal Medical Training and four years as a dermatology registrar you’ll be a Consultant Dermatologist. This means that AFTER leaving school, it will take a minimum of 5+2+2+4 = 13 years to make it. Lots of people do additional degrees or don’t get into dermatology at the first attempt and so it takes even longer.
Is it worth it? I’d say so – but it’s not a complete cake walk. Here’s what my average day looks like.
So, is becoming a dermatologist hard? Maybe, but it simply takes mental commitment to jumping through the hoops rather than being super difficult in itself.
This isn’t an exhaustive guide: there are non-traditional routes to make it as a dermatologist. Some people do medicine as a second degree after having first been to medical school. Others do an Access to Medicine course to help people from different backgrounds. There are even ways to study medicine which can be done via distance-learning.