What is dermatology?

Dermatology is the study of the structure and function of the skin, including how skin pathologies relate to malfunctions of other bodily organs.

The skin is the largest organ of the human body, and one of the most complex. Its main purpose is to protect the internal organs from harmful external influences, such as bacteria, viruses, allergens, disease, sun, wind and rain. The skin also often serves as an indicator of underlying problems with internal organs.

What is a dermatologist?

A dermatologist is a medical doctor who has been certified by a recognized board of dermatology as a physician specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of skin, hair and nail conditions and diseases. Functions of dermatologists include diagnosis, prevention through education and examination, surgery and cosmetic procedures to improve the appearance of skin damaged by sunlight, aging, disease or other causes.

Dermatologists train extensively before taking the certification examination. First, the candidate must graduate from an accredited medical or osteopathic school in the United States, or obtain a standard foreign graduation certificate if graduating from a school outside the United States. Upon graduation, the candidate completes a first-year residency program in general clinical training with an emphasis in one of the following areas: internal medicine, general surgery, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics or emergency medicine.

Following the first year of clinical training, the candidate must complete at least three years in an accredited dermatology residency program. Openings in these programs are extremely limited due to funding, so those who are admitted to the program must have already demonstrated medical skill. During this period of intensive medical and surgical training, at least 75 percent of the candidate’s time must be directly related to dermatology patient care.

All post-graduate training must be completed within five years of graduation from medical or osteopathic school before the candidate is eligible to take the American Board of Dermatology certification exam. To maintain certified status, dermatologists must take a recertification exam every 10 years. Currently, there are approximately 8,500 certified dermatologists practicing in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. In September 2000, the American Board of Dermatology listed approximately 550 certified dermatologists practicing in Florida.