So you’re a medical student and want to do dermatology?

Inauspicious beginnings

During medical school, I was sufficiently disinterested so as to receive a letter of warning from my tutor…and now I’m a consultant dermatologist. The moral of the story is that if I could manage this from such an inauspicious starting point, you definitely can. If you need to drive from London to Leeds (a journey I can recommend to you if you like average 50mph speed limits on motorways), you need to do some planning. Don’t fancy that?

Sure, you can get there with a few wrong turnings but you’ll probably get there in the end. Alternatively, if you do want to get there in a timely and efficient manner, check out our tips below:

  • Get to know your local department

Most hospitals have a dermatology department and there will likely be someone who has a special interest in education. When I was a student, there were two consultants who showed me the way: Dr. Nuala O’Donoghue (who has since escaped to Manchester) and Professor Chris Bunker (who is now at UCLH). On reflection, I hope I’m not the reason they left their previous posts… Get in contact – if you don’t hear anything back by email, leave a message with their secretaries. If you still have no luck, leave a note for them at their clinic. If they still won’t get back to you, cut your losses and move on.

One thing that I would implore trainees to know is that most departments will frequently receive expressions of interest from students. Mark yourself out as somebody who will be helpful for the department. This can mean helping out with audits, grand round presentations, case reports and even research projects. It’s important to be realistic – not every contribution will yield a presentation and publication. The commitment that you show in the seemingly menial may translate into a win down the line. A good policy when dealing with pieces of work is to under-promise and over-deliver. Case-in-point, I remember doing an all-nighter with my good friend, Dr. Ajoy Bardhan (who is now incidentally a Consultant Dermatologist and Clinical Lecturer at the University of Birmingham) in order to get some work to Prof. Bunker as quickly as possible. We were subsequently rewarded with some international presentations that are still helpful on my CV.

  1. Make full use of your time as an undergraduate

I know, I know…I didn’t. But you didn’t come here to gloat about how I don’t practice what I preach, did you?

To paraphrase the late boxing champion Muhammad Ali, doing the hard work now will reap dividends down the line. If medical school were easy, we’d all be scoring first class undergraduate degrees, publishing papers as easily as Instagram stories and winning prizes left, right and centre. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

If you’re still a student, you control the outcome of your undergraduate studies. We would recommend liaising with your local department and enquiring if you can do a specialty choice module/student selected module/student-selected component/shambolic seductive caterpillar (just checking you’re still paying attention!)

Ask if you can sit in on clinics/shadow a registrar when they do inpatient rounds/do a taster week. It’s never to early to start preparing: case-in-point, a large proportion of your points at ST3 application can be secured while an undergraduate. These include:

– doing an intercalated degree (and ideally scoring a good classification of degree)

– winning a national prize

– scoring merits or distinctions

– presentations (oral or poster)

– publications (PubMed-indexed journals are key!)

– teaching (this can be as simple as teaching colleagues how to perform certain clinical skills but you MUST collate feedback for the points)

This is not an exhaustive list but simply goes to show that the ball is in your court when it comes to preparation.

  1. Come and have a cup of tea – get to know us!

Well, you can have a cup of tea. I’ve never actually liked hot drinks but I’ll get you one if you’re ever in London and fancy a natter.

On the subject of tea, my first consultant in dermatology was a fine gentleman called Dr. Jana (who is the current president of the St. John’s Dermatological Society). One of his rites of passage was his formal assessment of the quality of tea produced by his registrar (I’m not joking). I wonder if the scene below was triggered by an overly sweet tea sugar-rush…

I can’t promise such moves (the GMC insist that I don’t dance in the workplace) but I can offer some words of wisdom. Get in touch.


Good luck!