The Daily Life of A Dermatologist

Dermatologists are busyThe television perception of doctors is often skewed toward drama, sex, and a rockstar lifestyle. Take Grey’s Anatomy, Mistresses (plastic surgeon character), Scrubs, or Dr. 90201. Even reality medicine shows like NY Med or Boston Med portray a more sensational view of a doctor’s life. Our lives are both exciting and boring at the same time. Exciting in that most specialties involve troubleshooting symptoms and boring in that there is quite a bit of repetition.

To help the general layperson get a broad sense of an average doctor’s routine, I will detail the daily life of a dermatologist. Note: I am not a Dermatologist, but have spent considerable time working with them and have colleagues in the field.

Clinical Lifesyle

The average workday of a Dermatologist is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is also a very manageable day. A typical day runs about 8-10 hours including some amount of time to use the restroom and eat lunch (10 minutes – 1 hour). Most of the workday for a clinician dermatologist involves patient care. An average Dermatology office will have its doctor see about 40-50 patients a day, although I have seen numbers up to 100 a day! What this means is that you haul ass, as a Dermatologist! Minimal chit-chatting, and a lot of spot diagnoses and treatments. Our reimbursements have dwindled over the years, and many offices are often forces to pile on our patients. Nonetheless, the brief time the Dermatologist spends with her patients is quite sufficient for accurate diagnosis.

Rinse and repeat for each of the days the doctor is in clinic. Some Dermatologists may have certain half days dedicated to biopsies or particular skin treatments in order to operate more efficiently. Most doctors will also have administrative duties like business meetings that often add on 5-10 hours a month to the work schedule.

There’s no loitering around. On an average 20-day month, a Dermatologist seeing 50 patients per day will see 1000 people!

Academic Lifestyle

An academic Dermatologist will have more dedicated time to research, teaching, administration, or writing. Many university-based doctors will have perhaps two half-day clinics of patient care with perhaps two days a week of research time. One day of the week may even be dedicated to administrative duties. Revenue generated by the academic Dermatologist is minimal and likely insufficient to even cover the doctor’s salary. Income thus comes from donations (appointed chairs), state/governmental funding, and grants to perform research. The perks of academic medicine include the fact that you can be removed from the financial considerations of medical practice. You involve yourself with interesting technology and are given the opportunity to work with thought leaders (and become one) of your field. You can’t really put a price on fame. And what you do daily really shouldn’t be boring. You can immerse yourself in the cutting edge of medicine. Most academic physicians I know bring their paper-writing home and spend a lot of their free time on their careers. Not necessarily a bad thing to do, but it really shows that you love your career.

One of the downsides of the academic lifestyle is that you are removed from many of the practical matters of medical practice (read: finances). Most doctors I know in academia are quite ignorant of finances and actually think that their one-day a week clinic actually covers their salary. There is no free lunch. You really aren’t generating your worth in cold, hard, cash but rather intrinsically through your research, teaching, and innovations to the field.

Dermatologists Are Busy 

You can basically substitute in any medical specialty in the sentence above (except for maybe rehab medicine—j/k). Dermatologists are no different. The clinician routine is quite repetitive. Imagine spending your entire 20’s training to see thousands of patients a month for your entire career! It is not an easy task. Maybe that’s why we often seen doctors with those fancy cars, homes, and yachts….

Do you have any comments to add regarding the lifestyle of a Dermatologist? Sound out below!

Those of you who are interested about the life of a Moh’s surgeon, see our post on this specialty.

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  • Anne

    Why the diss on rehab medicine? Jealous maybe?

    • Smart Money MD

      Absolutely! 😛 One of my roommates in medical school is a rehab doc who specialized in sports medicine. Crazy busy schedule too!

      Anne, are you involved more with inpatient or outpatient rehab?

      • Anne

        Mostly outpatient. Mix of general msk, EMGs, and long term f/u of people with severe complex disabilities (SCI, stroke, neuromuscular d/o, TBI, etc). Definitely don’t see nearly as many patients as a dermatologist but spend much more time with each patient, esp the complex ones. The phrase “greater than 50% of time spent in patient education and coordination of care” was made for physiatrists.

        • Smart Money MD

          Takes a lot of patience to go through the process for each patient! In general, are more physiatrist positions available as employed positions in hospitals/long-term care, or in private practices? I have another classmate who is a physiatrist, and she decided to work more with implements as an outpatient private practice.

          • Anne

            Pretty big variety: inpatient at acute rehab hospitals, inpatient/outpatient mix, acute care consults, SNF/LTACH consults, sole outpatient work–even there I know people who are generalists, sports, EMG, interventional spine, pain, workers comp programs, etc. Most I know, whether inpt or outpt, are employed, as at least in my area the big hospitals have bought up most of the private practices. Still know a few people that have managed to keep or build their private practices though–can be done as a low overhead model in our specialty which is nice.