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In order to become a cosmetic dermatologist, you’ll usually need to attend medical school, then complete residency and internship programs in dermatology and potentially also surgery. The path is usually a rigorous one, often taking at least a decade of post-secondary education. Simply graduating isn’t usually the end, either; in most places you’ll have to pass a battery of certification exams and ultimately find a permanent placement in a hospital or practice. Some doctors also choose to open solo practices, but this often requires a lot of business savvy and managerial acumen. In most cases, the easiest way to get started is to work with other doctors — both for job security and learning purposes. Success in later years often depends as much on expertise as on the ability to attract and retain clients. Cosmetic dermatology is nearly always elective, which means that patients don’t always have a medical need for the treatments provided. Treatments are usually done to improve a person's looks rather than his or her health, and building up a client base is often a matter of marketing and outreach as a result.
Cosmetic dermatology usually focuses on procedures and techniques done to make the skin look more youthful or to remove blemishes that, while unsightly, aren’t necessarily problematic from a medical standpoint. Doctors typically offer laser surgery to remove hair, birthmarks, scars, and tattoos. Botox™ injections and chemical peels are also popular ways to achieve a more youthful look. Cosmetic dermatologists frequently also treat hair loss, using procedures such as hair restoration and hair transplants.
Like all doctors, cosmetic dermatologists must typically earn a bachelor's degree and complete four years of medical school. Then, after completing an internship, in most places you’ll also need to pursue a dermatology residency program that can take as long as four more years to complete. Different countries have slightly different processes, but the basic progression from general to specific knowledge is usually about the same everywhere.
On its own, education isn’t usually enough to permit you to become a cosmetic dermatologist. Most of the time you’ll also need some sort of certification, and will usually have to prove your specific knowledge through exams commonly known as “boards.” As is true with nearly all medical disciplines, practitioners usually have to get recertified periodically, as well. This often takes the form of courses and continuing education seminars that will help you keep informed about the changes and advancements in the field.
Of course, actually working with patients and performing procedures is also an essential trait of the cosmetic dermatologist, and can’t usually happen outside of a fixed practice. Many new doctors join staffs at hospitals, performing routine dermatological procedures and only later choosing later to specialize in strictly cosmetic aspects. Flexibility is usually important, particularly when you’re just starting out. You may find that you need to build a reputation for yourself as a practitioner generally before you’ll have success performing only cosmetic procedures. You may also find that you’re a more attractive hire if you have a range of experiences, too.
Many practitioners also find it valuable to join groups or organizations devoted to cosmetic dermatology. Examples in the U.S. include the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery, The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, and the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery. These organizations and others like them typically grant cosmetic dermatologists access to conferences, journals, and training that will keep you up-to-date on emerging technologies. Meetings and social functions may also give you a chance to network with others, which can lead to new job possibilities and client referrals.
There are also a few personality traits and skills that could benefit someone who wants to become a cosmetic dermatologist. As with all doctors, it is important to have good communication and interpersonal skills. An ability to be patient, tactful, and compassionate will likely also serve you well.
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