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There are many possibilities when it comes to choosing your medical specialization and there's a lot to consider. This “Choosing Your Medical Specialty" series will help you learn more about each specialty and help you explore which one best matches your values, interests, and abilities.

Dermatologists specialize in the treatment of conditions of the skin, hair and nails and adjacent mucous membranes. It can make for a rewarding career, as you’ll be helping people feel better about themselves. “Dermatology patients, perhaps more than others, can suffer an emotional impact from their condition. Self-esteem, confidence and feelings of fulfillment can all suffer at the hands of skin conditions, especially chronic ones,” says Dr. Sheldon Pollack, a dermatologist at Dermatology on Bloor in Toronto and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.

A typical day for a dermatologist

Dermatologists typically see patients in out-patient clinics, although some work in hospitals, research facilities or academic settings. You may see a range of patients — from newborns to the elderly. Common conditions dermatologists treat include acne, eczema, balding, skin cancer or toe-nail fungus.

“The arsenal of treatments for dermatologic conditions is probably the broadest in medicine,” says Dr. Pollack. You may treat your patients with anti-infective creams, immunosuppressants, ultraviolet light or lasers, or minor surgery to name a few.

As a dermatologist you may choose to specialize in a certain area, for example:

  • Pediatric dermatology: Specializing in the treatment of kids’ hair, skin and nails, for example, birthmarks, eczema, vitiligo (loss of skin pigment), moles and even skin cancer.
  • Cosmetic dermatology: Focusing on treating the appearance of the skin, for example, wrinkles, sagging, scars.
  • Dermatologic surgery: Performs surgery on certain skin conditions, such as cancer.
  • Clinical research: Dermatologic researchers focus on new devices and medications to treat patients.

For example, Dr. Pollack specializes in cosmetic dermatology and his patients come to him for things like skin lesions to be removed, laser treatments, facial rejuvenation and the treatment of scarring.

What is the rewarding part of being a dermatologist?

Like many areas of medicine, often more than one treatment approach is needed to address skin conditions. Because it is visually apparent if a skin condition isn’t responding to treatment, this may be frustrating for both patients and doctors.

Much like family medicine, dermatology offers considerable patient interaction. “Once effectively treated, dermatology patients are among the most grateful — they have been relieved of discomfort, itching or disfigurement that has had a significant impact on their day to day lives,” says Dr. Pollack. “I am able to help patients feel more confident when they look in the mirror. This is a particularly rewarding facet of my day.”

Another benefit of choosing to specialize in dermatology is work-life balance. Most dermatologists are able to choose their office hours and workloads.

How much do dermatologists make?

Although residency programs may be hard to get into, employment prospects as a dermatologist are quite good. According to CMA, the average salary of a dermatologist in Canada is around $410,000/year with an average of 35% spent on overhead.

Read related story – 20 Most in-Demand Specializations in Canada

What does it take to become a dermatologist?

Dermatology is tough to get into — it’s one of the smallest sub-specialties in medicine and there are only a few dozen residencies available in Canada. “Therefore, students eyeing a career in dermatology should first try to spend elective time in a dermatology clinic or office,” says Dr. Pollack. That can help you know for sure it’s something you’re interested in. From there, you need to build your resume with things like a summer preceptorship, getting a research position or publishing in a journal, suggests Dr. Pollack, to help you gain a spot in one of the eight residency programs in Canada.

Once you’ve gotten into a dermatology residency program you’ll do five years of medical and surgical training.

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