Dermatopathologists are physicians who use specialized equipment to study disorders of the skin, hair and nails - these physicians usually assist other providers during the diagnostic stage of care.

About Dermatopathology

Dermatopathologists are licensed physicians that are usually employed in hospital-based or private laboratories to analyze human skin samples. These physicians employ their expertise to assist primary treating physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of skin diseases and disorders. Because more than 1,500 skin disorders are currently known to the medical community, dermatopathologists play a vital role in the care provided throughout the field of dermatology. In some cases, the dermatologist may also be trained as a dermatopathologist, though this is not usually the case.

Dermatopathology is a scientific medical specialty that utilizes a variety of different tools including microscopes, cell counters and other highly technical equipment to help identify diseases when dermatologists and other physicians are unable to confidently make a diagnosis based solely on the appearance of the patient’s skin. Dermatopathologists are often given skin biopsies from dermatologists and other physicians, and will analyze them using the aforementioned equipment. This allows the physician to more thoroughly understand the histology of the disease, assisting in the physician’s arrival at the correct diagnosis.

Often times, microscopic examination of a skin biopsy is not enough to determine the diagnosis and further specialized testing must be performed by the dermatopathologist. This may include testing techniques such as immunohistochemistry, electron microscopy, immunofluorescence, molecular-pathologic analysis and flow cytometry. Dermatopathologists may be involved in cases of melanoma and other skin diseases, as well as infectious, pediatric and immunologic diseases.

Dermatopathology Education & Training

The education and training to become a dermatopathologist begins with the completion of an undergraduate education in premedical studies, health sciences, biology or a related area. Following undergraduate study, the student must complete a four year medical degree before entering residency training. In the United States, dermatopathologists are required to complete a three year dermatology residency. After completing a residency, the physician usually completes an additional four years of residency training in an anatomic pathology.

After successful completion of these two residencies, dermatopathologists must complete an additional one to two year post-residency course of study in dermatopathology, generally classified as a fellowship. After successful completion of all educational requirements, many dermatopathologists gain board certification from the American Board of Pathology or the American Board of Dermatology. Moreover, dermatopathologists usually seek subspecialty certification in dermatopathology, which is "a joint and equal function of the American Board of Dermatology (ABD) and the American Board of Pathology (ABP)." Like all physicians, dermatopathologists must be issued a medical license by the state(s) in which they care for patients.