Long years of study and research are needed to become a dermatologist. These highly qualified doctors may beginning initial training as early as high school, though actual degrees required to be a dermatologist are not offered until the college level. The steps of education required take about 13 years to fully complete, although some programs may condense or expand this time line somewhat.
An undergraduate degree is the first step required in order to become a dermatologist. While students set on a medical career may choose to major in a scientific field, such as biology, some aspiring doctors come from undergraduate programs that have nothing to do with medicine or science. In the third year of undergraduate work, students who plan to attend medical school sit initial examinations, which are used, along with transcripts, to secure a place in a medical school during the student's senior year. Most undergraduate programs last four years, but part-time students may take five or six years to complete the same program.
Following acceptance into medical school, students must plan on another three to four years of training. In this portion of education, students will gain the real skills and knowledge necessary to qualify as a doctor. Toward the end of medical school, students will need to sit medical board examinations to become licensed doctors, and may also start the residency portion of their education. A student who begins a residency while still in medical school may be able to be a dermatologist slightly faster than those who begin residencies following the full completion of medical school.
A residency is a three- to five-year program in which new doctors train under the supervision of established professionals, testing their skills on real cases. In order to become a dermatologist, a student may need to complete a short general residency, then specialize in dermatology. Residencies cover all aspects of the dermatological profession, from the identification and treatment of skin diseases to the practice of skin-correcting surgery.
Following a residency, a doctor may choose to take additional fellowships in order to become a dermatologist in a specialty field. These fellowships typically last one to two years, and aim to train an already accomplished doctor in advanced techniques, such as cosmetic surgery or the removal of skin cancers. With fellowships, the time it takes to become a dermatologist may stretch up to 15 years. Despite the longer time commitment, fellowships are often well-paid positions that can help establish a doctor at the cutting edge of his or her field.