Dermatopathologists are licensed medical doctors who work in hospital laboratories, studying samples of human skin tissue to identify and diagnose diseases. They utilize microscopes, cell counters, and other sophisticated pieces of equipment to analyze physical and chemical abnormalities. A person who wants to become a dermatopathologist usually needs to complete four years of medical school and five years of residency and fellowship training to gain the skills necessary to perform the job. In addition, he or she must pass a series of examinations to earn a license and start working independently.
An individual who believes he or she wants to become a dermatopathologist can pursue a bachelor's degree from an accredited four-year college or university. Most prospective dermatopathologists choose to major in premedical studies, biology, or health science. A student usually takes several advanced courses in human anatomy and physiology to become familiar with medical terminology. Laboratory classes in chemistry and biology provide the basics of scientific research, and statistics classes teach the fundamentals of study design and analysis. Near the end of a bachelor's degree program, a student can begin applying to medical schools and take the requisite entrance examinations.
Guidance counselors can help an individual identify and apply to programs. Once a student is accepted into a medical school, academic advisers and mentoring professors can help him or her decide which courses will be most beneficial in the quest to become a dermatopathologist. A new student typically spends the first two years of medical school in classrooms and laboratories, receiving detailed instruction from knowledgeable professors. The remaining two years are spent conducting actual research with students and professors. By composing a dissertation based on an original research project, an individual can earn his or her degree and begin applying to residency programs at hospitals.
A three-year residency in dermatology or pathology is generally necessary to become a dermatopathologist. During a residency program, a new doctor has the opportunity to practice dermatological medicine and engage in laboratory research under the supervision of experienced professionals. A successful resident can then participate in a two-year fellowship dedicated specifically to dermatopathology. A fellow spends most of his or her time in the laboratory, preparing biopsy tissue slides, writing diagnostic reports and scientific papers, and assisting established doctors in their work.
Following a fellowship program, a doctor can take licensing tests administered by national or international governing boards to officially become a dermatopathologist. Most European and Asian countries honor certification from the International Board of Dermatopathology, while doctors in the United States must pass exams given by both the American Board of Pathology and the American Board of Dermatology. Once an individual earns a license, he or she is eligible to obtain a permanent position at a hospital, specialty clinic, or private laboratory.