What is a Dermatologist?
A dermatologist is a medical specialist who is an expert in recognising and managing disorders of the skin, hair and nails. In Australia, qualified and recognised dermatologists hold the title "FACD", which stands for "Fellow of the Australasian College of Dermatologists".
To become a dermatologist in Australia, a qualified doctor first has to gain entry into the highly competitive dermatology specialist training programme. The Australian dermatology training programme takes four years to complete and encompasses ongoing clinical supervision and structured assessments. In the final year of training, all trainees have to pass the multifaceted rigorous fellowship examinations to ensure the highest level of competence before qualifying and be allowed to practise as a Fellow of the Australasian College of Dermatologists. Some dermatologists choose to subspecialise in a particular area of their interest and go through further training, termed a "fellowship".
The work of a dermatologist is often challenging, interesting and varied on a day to day basis due to the high turnover of patients and conditions seen. A dermatologist has to learn and master various aspects of common and rare skin diseases in both children and adults, and also works closely with other specialties as many skin problems are manifestations of more serious internal medical problems that require other specialist input. Australian dermatologists are highly trained to recognise and treat skin cancers and sun-damaged skin since Australia has the second highest skin cancer rates in the world behind New Zealand. Most dermatologists perform skin cancer surgery including flap and graft closures of surgical wounds except for more complex skin cancer surgery where collaboration with plastic surgeons is required. As almost all things removed from the skin are sent for testing e.g. biopsies, dermatologists are trained to interprete these test reports with relevance and consistency to the patient's clinical condition. This is why sometimes a dermatologist may recommend a biopsy to be repeated if the pathology report does not match the patient's clinical condition. Besides medical and surgical dermatology, some dermatologists also practise cosmetic dermatology using medical grade lasers, injectables and cosmeceuticals for skin rejuvenation.
Most dermatologists in Australia are in private practice, but many also consult in public hospital clinics part-time where more complex cases are seen and to help train dermatology registrars. Some dermatologists choose a career in research and academia.
Overall, dermatology is a challenging and a very rewarding career as life-changing differences can be made to improve the quality of life of those who have lived with chronic and often debilitating skin diseases. The current era of ground-breaking and exciting medical research has also revolutionalised how dermatologists treat various skin diseases with the accessibility of game-changing medications such as biologic therapy for psoriasis and immunomodulator drugs for advanced melanomas to achieve remissions and to prolong survival.