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What is it like being a Dermatologist?
The best way to answer this question is to go back to why I became a dermatologist in the first place. It’s one of the most common questions I get asked by medical students and patients. I chose dermatology because it combines the best of what medicine has to offer. I see adult and pediatric patients. I offer both medical and surgical management for my patients. And, I have the opportunity to provide cosmetic interventions as well. Every single patient encounter can vary and is never boring or monotonous. Perhaps the best part of what I do is the immediate positive impact we can have on patients’ lives. That can be very satisfying.
Interestingly, many people enter dermatology with the impression that we have “easy” lifestyles. This is truly a matter of perspective. The biggest challenge I face is the sheer volume of patients we see on a daily basis and the waiting lists of patients looking to schedule. Relative to other fields, there are simply not a lot of dermatologists out there making us a little tougher to access. This has always bothered me as I do want to make sure patients have access to care. However, in order to do so and accommodate the volume of patients trying to be seen, this does mean that I do not get breaks. I haven’t taken a break for coffee, lunch, dinner, or the bathroom in over 17 years. If I would like to plan a vacation, this needs to be planned months in advance because anything sooner would require rescheduling dozens of patients even to just try to squeeze a long weekend in. Although we may not have many evening and weekend calls to go into the office for true medical emergencies leading us to run into the hospital like some fields, we do have a fair share of patient calls to manage.
What are the pros and cons?
I had always thought to myself- ‘who wouldn’t want to be a dermatologist, this is the best!’ I love it because I love what I call my ‘bread and butter’ diagnoses, the most common things I see. I love diagnosing and treating acne, skin cancer, and hair loss. It never gets old and I enjoy the patient education and helping patients navigate their options. This is a pro for me. If you do not enjoy or like these ‘bread and butter’ diagnoses, then this may not be a pro for everyone.
For dermatologists that would like to subspecialize in surgery, pediatrics, or pathology, it can be difficult to focus your practice exclusively in these areas unless you are in a huge practice, an academic setting, or in an area with several Dermatologists. Even for Mohs surgeons, if they are in an area that is underserved, many will find themselves still practicing some general dermatology. As you can imagine with the demand for our services it would be difficult for someone to turn away some of the most common reasons patients seek out our care.
It is also very important to understand that it helps to be a ‘people person’. I meet and interact with hundreds of patients and their family members a week. That’s a lot of people to talk to and build patient-physician relationships with! I find myself switching gears constantly to discuss acne or eczema with a teenager then skin cancer with an older patient then cosmetics with someone my age. I consider this a pro as I find this aspect of what I do professionally fulfilling as it gives me the opportunity to serve my community. However, this is not for everyone. That is perfectly ok because medicine has something to offer to everyone. It’s just a matter of finding what is best for you to avoid burnout down the road.