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What is a dermatologist?

What is a dermatologist?

A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in conditions involving the skin, hair, and nails. A dermatologist can identify and treat more than 3,000 conditions. These conditions include eczema, psoriasis, and skin cancer, among many others.

Dermatologist talking with patient

The skin is an incredible organ. It is your first line of defense against disease, protects your other organs, warms you up and cools you down, and sends messages about how healthy you are inside. Dermatologists are expert medical doctors and skin surgeons with the unique skills and experience to offer the best care for the organ that cares for you.

Dermatologists have extensive training, going to school for 12 years or more to learn to diagnose and treat more than 3,000 diseases of the skin, hair, and nails as well as cosmetic concerns. Patients see dermatologists for issues that are much more than skin deep. Problems with their skin can harm patients’ sense of self-worth, create discomfort that can make everyday activities difficult, and, in some instances, threaten lives.

A dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in treating the skin, hair, and nails. Dermatologists care for people of all ages, from newborns to seniors.

Illustration of skin, hair, and nails

If you were to watch a dermatologist at work on any given day, you might see them:

  • Treat a baby’s prominent birthmark that threatens the child’s eyesight

  • Remove a mother’s deadly melanoma at its earliest, most treatable stage

  • Offer relief for a student whose chronic eczema makes sleep nearly impossible

  • Diagnose the life-threatening liver condition causing a grandfather’s unbearable itching

  • Treat the hair loss of a young woman, helping her gain the confidence to complete a job search

Gaining the expertise to provide this level of care takes many years of schooling. Learn more about dermatologists and the life-changing care they provide to patients.

What training does a dermatologist have?

No one has completed more training than dermatologists to address concerns with your skin, hair, and nails. Before they can begin practicing, dermatologists receive more than a decade of training, including:

  • Four years of college to earn a bachelor’s degree

  • Four years of medical school to become a medical doctor

  • A year-long internship

  • Three years of residency, working alongside experienced doctors and completing 12,000 to 16,000 hours of treating patients.

Dermatologist years of education and training infographic.

Some dermatologists will then pursue additional advanced training in particular areas, known as fellowship training.

What is a board-certified dermatologist?

After successfully completing residency training in dermatology, a dermatologist can become board-certified, completing a challenging exam on the knowledge and skills acquired during their years of training.

Board certification from the American Board of Dermatology, the American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology, or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada lets you know you are receiving care from someone who has received the most rigorous education in the field. It is important that the board certification be from one of these organizations. There are many different kinds of boards, and other certifications do not reflect the same level of training and expertise.

How dermatologists become board-certified infographic.

You can tell a dermatologist is board-certified if the letters FAAD appear after their name. FAAD stands for Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. Typically, a dermatologist’s website will show whether they are board-certified. Find out what these letters stand for and why you want to choose an FAAD dermatologist.

Why choose a board-certified dermatologist?

Dermatologists treat more than 3,000 conditions that affect the skin, hair, and nails. Skin diseases are especially common, affecting one in four Americans each year.

Dermatologists treat a wide variety of skin conditions from deadly skin cancers to warts. Issues dermatologists see may include chronic disease caused by problems with your immune system, allergic reactions to everyday substances, infections caused by bacteria or a virus, and more. Dermatologists also help patients who want to help with cosmetic concerns, including addressing issues with their aging skin, treating wounds caused by surgery to remove a skin cancer, helping to diminish acne or other scars, or helping patients suffering diseases like AIDS restore a healthier appearance. Learn why it's important to seek the advanced medical expertise of a dermatologist.

Specialties within dermatology

After becoming a board-certified dermatologist, some dermatologists decide to continue their medical training. They may receive advanced training in one of the specialties within dermatology:

  • Dermatopathology

  • Mohs surgery

  • Pediatric dermatology


A dermatopathologist is a doctor who specializes in both dermatology and pathology. When your dermatologist sees an issue of concern, they may biopsy it, removing a piece of skin and sending it to a dermatopathologist to confirm their suspected diagnosis.


A dermatopathologist is a doctor who specializes in both dermatology and pathology. They examine tissue with a microscope to diagnose your medical condition.

Male doctor looking into microscope.

The dermatopathologist examines the biopsied skin with a microscope and provides your dermatologist with a written report called a biopsy or pathology report. This report will tell what disease was found and include other information, like stage or severity, that can help determine the best possible treatment.

For some conditions, like skin cancer, an examination by a dermatopathologist is the only way to be certain of the diagnosis and its severity.

Why choose a board-certified dermatopathologist?

Board-certified dermatopathologists first complete training in dermatology — or sometimes in pathology — and then dedicate another year of training to develop advanced skills in diagnosing skin disease based on examination of skin samples under a microscope. They must pass another exam in dermatopathology to become board-certified. If you have any concerns about your diagnosis, you can ask to have a board-certified dermatopathologist read your sample.

Mohs surgeon

A Mohs surgeon is a dermatologist who performs a special technique called Mohs surgery to treat skin cancer. Mohs surgery involves removing thin pieces of skin and then examining each section with a microscope. This examination helps the dermatologist to ensure that they are removing all the cancer cells. It can also minimize the removal of healthy skin as the surgeon stops when they no longer see cancer cells under the microscope.

Mohs surgeon

A Mohs surgeon is a dermatologist who performs Mohs surgery. This surgery is used to treat skin cancer.

doctor and patient reviewing medical record

Mohs surgery has many advantages, but it is not the right treatment for everyone who has skin cancer. A dermatologist considers many factors before determining which treatment will be best for each patient. These factors include the type of skin cancer, whether the cancer has spread, and where the skin cancer appears on the body.

Why choose a board-certified Mohs surgeon?

After completing a dermatology residency, a Mohs surgeon completes additional training, often including a formal fellowship. This training typically takes one year and focuses on Mohs surgery and surgical reconstruction.

While all dermatologists learn about Mohs surgery during their training, a Mohs surgeon receives the most training.

Pediatric dermatologist

A pediatric dermatologist specializes in treating children, including infants. If your child has a condition that affects the skin, hair, or nails, you may consider treatment from a pediatric dermatologist.

Pediatric dermatologists

If your child has a condition that affects the skin, hair, or nails, you may consider treatment from a pediatric dermatologist.

doctor with child patient

Some diseases that affect the skin, hair, or nails are more common in children and some diseases only occur in children. All dermatologists treat children with skin conditions. However, you may be referred to a pediatric dermatologist if your child is diagnosed with a severe problem, challenging birthmark, or rare condition, for example.