Dermatology residency training can feel endless at the outset; an arduous intern year followed by 3 years of specialized training. However, I have realized that, within residency, time moves quickly. As I look ahead to postresidency life, I realize that residents are all facing the same question: What do you want to be when you grow up?
You may think you have answered that question already; however, there are many different careers within the field of dermatology and no amount of studying or reading will help you choose the right one. In an attempt to make sense of these choices, I have spoken to many recent dermatology graduates over the last several months to get a sense of how they made their postresidency decisions, and I want to share their pearls.
Pearl: Explore Fellowship Opportunities Early
The first decision is whether or not to pursue a fellowship after residency. There currently are 2 Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education–approved fellowships after dermatology residency: dermatopathology and micrographic surgery. Pediatric dermatology is another board-certified fellowship. A list of these training programs and the requirements can be found on the American Board of Dermatology website (www.abderm.org). There also are several nonaccredited fellowships including pediatrics, cosmetics, complex medical dermatology, cutaneous oncology, and rheumatology.
Even if you are not completely committed to pursuing a fellowship, it is beneficial to explore any fellowship options early in residency. Spend extra time in any field you are considering for fellowship and consider research in the field. If there is a fellowship position at your institution, try to rotate there early in residency. Rotations at other institutions can demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm while also helping you to network within your chosen subspecialty. Several of the dermatology interest groups even sponsor rotations at outside institutions, if extra funding is needed. If recent graduates from your program have matched in fellowship, it is always a good idea to reach out to them to get program-specific advice. It takes a lot of time, confidence, and persistence to organize the opportunities that will help you maximize your fellowship potential, but it is well worth the effort.
Fellowships can occur through an official “match,” similar to residency, or can be accepted on a rolling basis. For example, many dermatopathology fellowships can begin accepting applications as early as the summer between the first and second year of residency (www.abderm.org). It is important to get this information early so that you do not miss any application deadlines.
Pearl: Prioritize Where You Want to Practice
If you have decided that fellowship is not for you, then it is time to apply for your first job as a physician. There are several big factors that help narrow the search. It is best to start the search early to allow yourself time and different options. According to the 2016 American Academy of Dermatology database, there currently are approximately 3.4 dermatologists per 100,000 Americans; however, they are unevenly distributed throughout the country. In this study, the researchers found the highest density of dermatologists on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (41.8 per 100,000 dermatologists) compared to Swainsboro, Georgia (0.45 per 100,000 dermatologists).1
With more competition for jobs in areas with a higher concentration of dermatologists, compensation often is lower. There also are many personal factors that contribute to where you want to live and work, and if you prioritize them, it will lead to greater overall satisfaction in postresidency life.
Another large factor to consider is private practice versus academic dermatology. Academic dermatology can provide opportunities for research as well as the opportunity to work with students and residents. As part of a larger hospital system, there often is the opportunity for benefits, such as 401(k) matching, that might be less accessible in small practices.