Dermatology is so much more than hair, skin, and nails. One of the so-called “lifestyle specialties”, it’s also one of the most competitive to get into.
Getting exposure to it early, while making contacts in the specialty, can definitely help your future chances.
So, what’s the best way to shadow a dermatologist?
The best to shadow a dermatologist is to find one working in private care or involved in teaching. You can also try to request an opportunity from your own dermatologist or find one listed on the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).
Of course, there’s a little more to it than that, but don’t worry, we’ll get to it all in this article.
Here’s what else you’ll learn:
- What to expect shadowing a dermatologist
- How to find different shadowing opportunities in the specialty
- How to make the best out of a dermatology shadowing experience
As a med student with an interest in dermatology myself, I hope this proves useful!
Ready to get started? Let’s dive in.
What to expect shadowing a dermatologist
The main things you can expect include:
You’ll get to watch how dermatologists take the history of their patients, examine them for signs and symptoms of pathologies and watch as they recommend treatments and procedures.
Common cases you could expect to see may include things like eczema, psoriasis, hair loss, acne, skin rashes, and healing complaints, etc.
Depending on what type of dermatologist you shadow, you may also see them working in cosmetic surgery providing laser treatments, and the like.
The specialty is broad!
Many dermatologists are involved in medical research and might involve you in collecting data, analyzing samples, and other tasks.
Through shadowing dermatologists involved in research, you may have the opportunity to see more unique cases and observe things like skin graft transplants.
They may even assist in helping you get publications.
Attending dermatologists (as well as many residents) often have teaching duties.
Oftentimes this involves guest lectures or workshops given in a variety of settings.
They may expect to call on you for assistance in preparing or delivering their insight.
Surgeries and Procedures
Most derms are involved in some form of surgery or procedure.
Expect to see things like filler injections, cyst excision, lesion removal (cancerous and benign), skin tag removal, and more.
Board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Sheila Derm (her YouTube name), has a great video detailing a day-in-the-life of a US (Texas) dermatologist.
Although you can’t expect to see all these things shadowing, it does give you a little window into what’s possible!
How old do you have to be to shadow a dermatologist?
Typically you have to be 16 or over.
The rules concerning age are hospital or clinic-dependent. You’ll need to check with the institutions you plan on shadowing at.
Can I shadow a dermatologist in high school?
It’s certainly possible in specific places.
Many hospitals have summer volunteer programs for high school students that can help put you under the mentorship (or bring you in contact with) dermatologists.
There’s a broad list of these types of opportunities, broken down by major US cities, in our hospital volunteering opportunities near you articles.
Otherwise, reach out to your school’s Careers Department and see if they can’t help you make connections.
Is it difficult to shadow a dermatologist?
The real difficulty is in finding someone willing to let you shadow them.
Typically you’ll have to undergo background checks and have a dermatologist vouch for you if you hope to set foot in a clinic or hospital.
Remain open to the process and start early in your search.
How do I find dermatology shadowing near me?
Volunteer At Hospitals
Volunteering in any position could help you network with physicians and build contacts that could help you with dermatology-specific shadowing opportunities.
Prioritize teaching hospitals with dermatology departments first. That way you’ll build a network within the same location.
Start making a list of dermatology clinics in your city or area. See if you can find contact numbers or email addresses for team members or dermatologist physicians themselves.
You can use LinkedIn and alumni networks to help you.
Related: Do Med Students Need LinkedIn?
Use Your Contacts
Start talking about your desire to shadow in dermatology with your friends and family. Put a message out on social media. See if you can’t connect with clinic representatives or other helpful team members in the hope of securing a placement.
Enroll In Dermatology Summer Programs/Internships
Several medical schools offer dermatology-specific internships or summer programs for undergrad students with an interest in the specialty.
Oftentimes you don’t have to be enrolled in that specific school to take part in these programs either.
What about virtual shadowing?
Due to the pandemic, it’s also possible to find virtual dermatology shadowing placements.
Medschoolcoach.com is one place you can go to virtually shadow a dermatologist for free.
What type of dermatology shadowing programs could I enroll in?
There is a couple of dermatology structured shadowing and research programs running throughout the US.
One program, the UCSF Department of Dermatology Summer Research Fellowship, offers an 8-week summer research fellowship to interested medical students.
Candidates in that program will get the chance to work under a dermatologist faculty member and conduct research in any area of dermatology. There’s also a research award of $3500.
As mentioned, it’s a good idea to check with medical schools and teaching hospitals and look for these types of programs.
How should I ask a dermatologist for shadowing experience?
Dermatologists are probably best contacted via professional channels.
Although you’ll see many dermatology clinics marketing on places like Instagram and Facebook, it’s always best to try and connect through official channels first.
That means finding clinic phone numbers or email addresses and asking politely.
Keep your message brief. Explain who you are and why you’re contacting. Make sure you get the name of the clinic or physician right!
Don’t expect a huge success rate. Dermatologists (and their clinics) are busy.
You’ll probably have to keep trying several different places!
How can I best prepare?
It can definitely help to learn a little about dermatology as a medical specialty before you do any shadowing.
Although it’s not necessary, showing that you’ve done some research can sometimes lead to extra opportunity; seeing new/unique procedures and cases, etc.
Read up on the topic
Amanda Oakley’s Dermatology Made Easy is a nice introduction to the specialty.
Because it’s only shadowing, we don’t recommend you go for more comprehensive textbooks.
Learning about the career, what the major challenges are and how the training process is, is a good way of being informed about the specialty.
A lot of these questions are answered in this video; 73 Questions with a Dermatology Resident Doctor…
Familiarizing yourself with topics of interest via Dermatologically Tested, the British Association of Dermatologists‘ podcast, can be a great way to prepare on a commute or walking to a shadowing placement.
Memorize the basics
Running through a digital flashcard deck to learn dermatology basics can really serve to impress.
We run through some of the best ones here; 4 Best Dermatology Anki Decks.
Questions to ask when shadowing a dermatologist
Some of the best questions include:
- What made you choose dermatology as a specialty?
- What are your favorites/least favorites part of being a dermatologist?
- How often do you come across rare/unique cases? How do you react in such scenarios?
- Are there any things you wish you knew before becoming a dermatologist?
- What do you think are the most important skills required to make it in the specialty?
- How would you compare the work life balance between dermatology and other departments?
- How has working in the specialty changed you as an individual?
- What advice would you give to somebody wanting to become a dermatologist?
- How much scope is there to focus more on surgery and/or procedures within the specialty?
If you’re stuck for ideas I recommend you watch the video above for further inspiration!
Should I be a dermatologist quizzes
One fun thing to do prior to shadowing is to try a few quizzes.
Although you should definitely take them with a pinch of salt, some of the questions they ask can be fairly informative.
Here’s one I recommend: Should I Become a Dermatologist? – Owlguru.
It only takes a minute!
Shadowing a dermatologist: Reddit’s top tips
Finally, the communities over on Reddit have a couple of neat tips when it comes to finding/making the best of dermatology shadowing.
Here’s my pick of them:
Be mindful and polite
I shadowed one for 2 days at his private practice. Just make sure you are wearing what the doc wants you to and be polite. They don’t expect anything out of you other than to be professional. Also, it was an extremely boring experience in my case…hopefully it won’t be the same for you.– prince0fpersia94
If you’re not sure about what to wear, check out this article; Medical Student Attire (The Ultimate Guide On What To Wear In Med School).
The same rules apply to shadowing!
Use common sense
For behavior, stand quietly in the exam room while the doctor is with each patient. Between patients, feel free to ask questions about what the doctor did with the previous patient, why they did it, what they were thinking, etc. Basic common sense stuff applies; if the doctor is rushing from room to room or otherwise seems very hurried and busy, dial back questions to a minimum. If you get some time over lunch or in a longer break between patients to sit down for a bit with the doctor, take the opportunity to ask broader questions (why they chose dermatology, what their lifestyle is like, what a average week for their practice is like, things they like or dislike about their specialty/medicine, recommendations they might have for someone considering medicine).– LominAle
Take a few notes
Definitely bring a small pad (something you can slip in your pocket) and pen or pencil, but just use it to jot down notes that you actually want to remember. Don’t be constantly taking notes to show them that you’re valuing what they’re saying. And don’t treat this like it’s a lecture where you need to remember every piece of information. In general, the answer to those broader questions (and any other impressions you form on your own) are going to be far more important to note down and remember than anything related to what they’re doing to care for a patient.– LominAle
If you’d rather use a tablet, that’s fine too!
If you found this article interesting, you might find the following useful:
- Shadowing A Surgeon (Ultimate How-To Guide)
- Shadowing An Anesthesiologist (Beginner Tips!)
- Shadowing A Psychiatrist (A How-To Guide)
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.