FAQ for Medical Students: Pathway to Knowledge
I am commonly asked about my path to medicine in dermatology by students who are looking to forge a similar path. Below are some answers to the questions I am asked most often:
How did I choose dermatology?
As a medical student I was interested in many different aspects of medicine-diagnosing complex disease, performing interesting surgeries, working with adults and kids. When it came down to figuring out my final specialty, it was almost too hard to choose! I settled on dermatology because it is one of the few specialties in medicine that exposes you to pathology (diagnosing things under a microscope), surgery (yes, I still perform surgeries!), diagnosing tough conditions and I still see patients of all ages. Dermatology is a rewarding field because you get to literally see your patients benefit from your treatment. The joy of seeing our patient's love the skin they're in, is second to none.
I am a pre-med student and I know I want to go to medical school, what should I do?
My honest answer here is enjoy college as much as possible. Nothing makes me sadder than to learn that people have spent so much time focusing on admission to grad school that they let the best years of their lives pass them by. I used to be on the admissions committee for Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and it was always clear when applicants devoted their time to things they were passionate about, this is what truly made them stand out. The cookie cutter applicants who tailored their entire college experience to getting into medical school often did not fare as well; it is so easy for admissions officers to pick up on this tactic. There is no such thing as an 'ideal' major for medical school so if Shakespearean literature is your passion, then totally go for that English major. Obviously, you should do well in whatever major you choose but do not let your future medical career dictate your choice.
As a medical student, what can I do to make sure I am competitive for a dermatology residency position?
For some of the reasons listed above, dermatology has become a popular choice for medical students applying to residency. It is now so popular, that it has become uber competitive to get a residency spot. A typical candidate for residency should have: strong board scores ( ideally >240), performed well in school (multiple honors, AOA or other signs of strong clinical performance), performed some research that emphasizes their interest in dermatology, and have strong letters of recommendation. While these things do not guarantee that an applicant will be an outstanding dermatologist, the unfortunate reality is that many programs still emphasize quantitative data when selecting applicants so it is best to put yourself in as strong of a position as possible to be competitive.
What can I do if I am a medical student who did not do well on my boards or my clinical rotations? Can I still match?
It is definitely still possible to match even without ideal board scores...but it is tough. I see many applicants like this, and the ones who eventually match usually dedicate 2-3 years to extra research to improve their application. An application can be divided into four major components: board scores, clinical grades, letters of recommendation and research; at least two of these should be stellar (though three or more is preferred). If your grades are below average then taking time off to perform research helps you with two categories, as the strongest letters of recommendation often come from research mentors who know the application well. If you are truly dedicated to the field of dermatology and don't have the grades, strongly consider giving yourself more time to improve your application.