Specialty spotlight

How to match into dermatology

Dermatology is one of the most difficult specialties to match into. These strategies can help you stand out from other applicants.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Dermatology is one of the most competitive medical specialties to match into, and for good reason. Recent reports put dermatology in the top five specialties for physician happiness and compensation. Dermatology also offers great variety, with patients of all ages seeking help for medical, surgical and cosmetic treatments. For these reasons and many more, dermatology is one of the most difficult specialties to match into.

I’m a fourth-year dermatology resident who hosts a podcast about dermatology. After interviewing several colleagues, I wanted to share their tips for matching into a dermatology residency: top 5 answers on the board! (Family Feud style)

1. Focus on audition rotations: “Be the kind of person you would want to work with—respectful, intelligent, hard-working.” -Stefanie Altmann, DO, PGY-2

Audition rotations are a crucial part of the application cycle. Applicants spend one to four weeks rotating at their top residency choices to allow both the applicant and program to assess goodness of fit. These rotations give the opportunity for students to shine, but they can also land students on the “no way” column of the program’s match list.

How can you make a good impression? Show up early, stay late, be yourself but be professional, and be helpful. When clinic is backed up, help clean the rooms and offer to room new patients. Ask good questions, but not too many (rule of thumb: if it’s easy enough to look up yourself, just write it down and Google it later). Connect with the residents and also be friendly and helpful to fellow rotators. Programs want to see that you’re a team player!

2. Learn as much dermatology as you can: “There always seems to be one shot to demonstrate how hard you’ve been studying and impress the program director.” -Blake Robbins, DO, PGY-3

Most everyone has the good grades and board scores necessary to be a successful dermatology resident. However, information about dermatology can be scarce in some medical school curriculums, so not everyone has a stellar foundation of dermatology knowledge before audition rotations.

The logo for Dr. Kolb's podcast, which covers the basics of dermatology for med students and residents.

The American Academy of Dermatology learning modules are an excellent place to start for this. There is often a lot of drive time on rotations, so I started a podcast called Learn Derm Podcast to help fellow residents and students make good use of that time. It is geared toward students and interns and gives overviews of the bread-and-butter dermatologic conditions.

Once you’ve been exposed to the basics, find a base textbook and try to read it cover to cover during your fourth year of medical school or intern year. Common options are Andrews, Habif or Dermatology Secrets Plus.

3. Get involved with research: “When I interview candidates, the most common answer to ‘What do you think your candidacy is lacking?’ is: ‘I wish I had more research and publications.’” -Karthik Krishnamurthy, DO, dermatology program director at Orange Park Medical Center (OPMC) in Orange Park, Florida.

Having some research and/or publications can give you a more balanced CV and set you apart as an applicant.

Research publications commonly come in the form of case reports, so always ask the residents on audition rotations if they have good cases to write up.

You can also write review articles without an institutional review board permission, but they tend to be more time-consuming. Some students take a year off in medical school to get more clinical dermatology research experience.

4. It’s not always what you know but WHO you know. Network! “Have a mentor in your field of interest at every level of training—attending, resident and fellow medical student.” -Shawn Schmieder, DO, PGY-4

It’s a long journey, and finding a mentor who has been through it before is crucial, but you have to seek them out! Attend national conferences held by the AAD or the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.

Logan Kolb, DO

I met one of my co-residents at the fall AOCD meeting during medical school. Long story short, had we not met then, we may not be co-residents in our current program at OPMC.

Besides conferences, consider volunteering at Camp Discovery, the summer camp for kids with various skin conditions. Get involved in dermatology interest groups at your medical school, and don’t be afraid to reach out to students or alumni from your school who have matched into dermatology. The AAD has a mentorship program as well.

5. If you are not successful at first, try and try again! “When I was a student, about half of the people I spoke with made it into derm nontraditionally by doing a research fellowship or even another residency first. There are too few spots for the amount of applicants.” -Adam Chahine, MD, PGY-2

There are hundreds of successful doctors who didn’t get into medical school their first or second time. The same goes for dermatology. It can take multiple applications. When applicants don’t match into dermatology their first time, they often reapply during their intern year.

Other options include doing a year-long research or dermoscopy fellowship to strengthen your application before reapplying. Oftentimes it comes down to plain luck, so if you don’t match into dermatology the first time, try and try again!

It takes hard work and determination, but it is a journey that is well worth it. I constantly had to remind myself in medical school: “somebody has to get the spot, I may as well go for it.” I’m glad I did.

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