Dermatology – why it’s great and how I became a dermatologist

Why become a dermatologist?

While we might be a bit biased, dermatology is a great specialty to get into. As a relatively newly-appointed consultant and registrar, the variety that dermatology can offer is hard to match. Dermatology is something of an ecosystem in itself: if you like seeing children, become a paediatric dermatologist. Prefer something more practical? Surgical dermatology? Want to drive a big car? Do cosmetic dermatology! (actually, maybe don’t mention the last one at interview…)

Aside from the interesting patient mix that you’ll enjoy, dermatology can offer some of the advantages that people allude to but never really mention. 

  1. It’s family-friendly with a large proportion of dermatologists working less than full-time.
  2. There’s major scope for private practice if you want to pare back your NHS workload.
  3. You have your choice of locations for consultant jobs given the sheer number of unfilled consultant posts.
  4. Escape the medical registrar rota. We’ve been there – while it’s undoubtedly important work, it’s not really compatible with a sensible work-life balance.

Competition – why we set up our course

The only problem for you is that your colleagues have noticed the above and want a piece of the action. This manifests with increasingly serious competition ratios and well-prepared candidates. In this climate, it would be sensible to come equipped with every advantage. It’s important to recognise the limitations of this course however. We can’t tell you what exact questions you’ll be asked on the day. We can’t do anything if you freeze under the spotlight. We can’t do anything if you haven’t put in the groundwork. 

The course will give you an understanding of the application process, frameworks to deal with unfamiliar scenarios and a roadmap of how to get to your goal – a National Training Number in dermatology. We haven’t yet invented a USB port for your brain to download this information – until then, you’ll have to work through the course to give yourself the best chance at success.

How I became a dermatologist – and my mother’s wooden spoon

While at medical school, I felt quite deflated by the fact that I had signed up for a degree at the behest of my mother. I tried to leave on a number of occasions but was shepherded back to university with the gentle persuasion of my mother’s furious screaming and threats with a wooden spoon. 

After one too many Acute Medical Units ward rounds where the consultant told me to refer to do a D-dimer, CRP and troponin, I realised that I didn’t like unknown unknowns. For example, if a neurologist is dealing with non-specific sensory symptoms and syncope, they will often come up with a short differential diagnosis. I didn’t like that. In my life inside and outside the hospital, I prefer certainty. I like the visual element of dermatology. I can usually look at a rash and give a confident definitive diagnosis. If I’m not sure, I can simply take a skin biopsy and confirm what I’m dealing with. 

While a pretty forgiving specialty, the life of a dermatologist is not a complete cakewalk (“derm-a-holiday”). Seeing 24 patients a day in a clinic can be quite mind-numbing and I decided that I needed some time away from patients. In search of some respite from humans, I decided to do dermatopathology. This means that I can look at my own skin biopsies and get to the answer more quickly. Additionally, when I’m in the clinic and looking at skin, the background of knowing what a rash can look like under the microscope can help me secure the diagnosis in difficult cases. 

Through gritted teeth, I have to admit to my mother that I’m glad that she didn’t let me leave medicine! (But don’t tell her or she’ll be even more unbearable.)