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Did you know that skin is an organ of the body? It is the largest and most visible of the body's organs and one of the most complex since it constantly interacts with other organs and outside sources. Its main purpose is to act as a shield protecting your insides from external stress: disease, infection and environmental factors such as the sun, wind and rain. Your skin also plays an important part in your appearance and it is important to take care of your skin. Just ask any dermatologist and they will tell you a similar story.

Dermatologists specialize in caring for diseases of the skin, hair, nails and mucus membranes. They typically advise individuals on skin reactions to fragrance, makeup products and any other external factors that adversely affect the skin. Almost everyone has had some form of skin condition at some point in their lives. It is common for people to break out in rashes or acquire pimples; however there are also more serious disorders, such as skin cancer, that dermatologists assess and treat.

Some examples of the skin diseases that dermatologists study and treat are: acne, burns, skin cancer, eczema, hair loss, psoriasis, skin pigmentation problems, nail problems, rashes and warts, to name a few. Yet they do more than just diagnose skin diseases. They are trained in skin allergy, immunology, and sexually transmitted diseases, and in the relevant aspects of environmental and internal medicine, preventive medicine, radiology, and surgery. Dermatologists often prescribe medication or administer treatments for sufferers of skin diseases. According to many dermatologists, one of the benefits of dermatology over other forms of medicine is the variety of effective treatments available to patients.

Dermatologists work in the four areas of diagnosis, prevention, surgery and cosmetic procedures. They diagnose skin disease quickly and effectively, checking symptoms. They will then give patients options for proven treatments, such as medicines and creams. In prevention, they help prevent unnecessary damage to your skin. Through education about sun exposure, they also show people how to examine their skin for signs of skin cancer or other skin problems. Dermatologists can also perform skin surgery. They usually operate on the skin to prevent disease, provide early control of disease or improve how the skin looks. Finally, they also perform cosmetic procedures such as liposucion, chemical peels and the removal of birth marks and veins to help improve the appearance of skin damaged by aging, sunlight or disease.

Skin cancer has been on the rise, due to exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays. Dermatologists categorize skin cancer into one of two general types, melanoma or non-melanoma. Routine self-examinations, as well as periodic, thorough examinations by a dermatologist, particularly in high-risk individuals, is the greatest aid in early diagnosis. The standard treatment for primary melanoma is surgical removal. During this procedure, the tumor and an area of surrounding healthy tissue (margins) is removed. Melanoma that remains confined to the skin is almost 100 percent curable.

Dermatologists are skin educators of sun protection, and they advocate minimizing overall exposure, regular use of sunscreen, wearing hats and protective clothing and avoiding tanning beds. Following these steps will decrease one's risk factors for developing skin cancer.
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  Interests and Skills  
Dermatologists are interested in helping people, first and foremost. They have the intellectual ability required to successfully complete the academic training and to pursue a course of lifelong learning, and the stamina required to work long hours. They have excellent communication skills and can get along with people well and instill confidence. They will need emotional strength and maturity, and passion, empathy and energy.

Dermatologists should enjoy finding solutions to problems, dealing with people, and educating others about safe skin practices. They must also be proficient in medicine - they must have and apply the knowledge to diagnose illnesses. Also, ethics is a strong point for these types of people because they have to do what is right for their patients with their best interests in mind.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Diagnose and treat diseases of human skin
  • Examine skin to determine nature of disease, taking blood samples and smears from affected areas, and performing other laboratory procedures
  • Examine specimens under microscope, and make various chemical and biological analyses
  • Perform other tests to identify disease-causing organisms or pathological conditions
  • Prescribe and administer medications and apply superficial radiotherapy and other localized treatments
  • Treat abscesses, skin injuries, and other skin infections, and surgically excise cutaneous malignancies, cysts, birthmarks, and other growths
  • Treat scars using dermabrasion.
  • The majority of dermatologists work standard office hours, from Monday to Friday. However, many work evenings and weekends in order to accommodate their patients' work schedules. Most have their own private practice and work in offices and patient offices.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most dermatologists have their own private practice or work with a group of other specialists in a group practice. The others work in universities, hospitals and the private industry.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Dermatologists can learn new skills, add more patients, or change jobs. They may work strictly as dermatological surgeons, directors of research, hospital administrators, medical school administrators, and teachers in medical schools and residency programs. They may manage clinics or do research for pharmaceutical companies. They may also write and publish in scientific and medical journals or take jobs in medical public relations.

  Educational Paths  
Becoming a dermatologist requires a long educational road, so be prepared for a lifelong learning experience. Most dermatologists start with a Bachelor of Science degree, however some Bachelor of Arts graduates may be accepted into medical school programs. While in high school, take math and science classes. Also, not all medical schools require a bachelor's degree and with good marks, some students can get accepted after two years of undergraduate study. Check with the school for their requirements before applying.

The next step is medical school, which usually takes about four years. Graduation from an approved medical school will result in the title Medical Doctor (MD). After medical school, they must complete another five years in the dermatology division of a university, including three years of residency. This training will focus on skin, hair, nails and mucus membranes. Completion of the qualifying licensing examinations is required to practice medicine. Licensure by the regional licensing authority is required.

Finally, before entering medical school, volunteer in a hospital, nursing home or community center. This will give you valuable experience in dealing with people who need help and what it is like to work as a doctor.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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