Original Research

Premedical Student Interest in and Exposure to Dermatology at Howard University

Author and Disclosure Information

We conducted a cross-sectional survey study of premedical undergraduate students at Howard University (Washington, DC), to evaluate the level of interest that underrepresented in medicine (UiM) premedical students have in the field of dermatology. The 19-question survey assessed student knowledge, opinions, and exposure to dermatology. Dermatology is an area of great interest for UiM premedical students that has few avenues available for exposure and learning. In dermatologic care, race-concordant mentoring is highly valued by UiM premedical students. Increased shadowing, research, and general events geared to dermatology could help improve the disparity between UiM interest in dermatology and actualizing the goal of becoming a dermatologist.

Practice Points

  • Many premedical students desire more exposure to dermatology than they have been receiving, particularly in mentorship and shadowing. Most exposure has been through social media or as patients in a dermatology clinic.
  • Diverse mentorship and diversity of dermatology care are important to underrepresented in medicine premedical students and needs to be further incorporated.



Diversity of health care professionals improves medical outcomes and quality of life in patients. 1 There is a lack of diversity in dermatology, with only 4.2% of dermatologists identifying as Hispanic and 3% identifying as African American, 2 possibly due to a lack of early exposure to dermatology among high school and undergraduate students, a low number of underrepresented students in medical school, a lack of formal mentorship programs geared to underrepresented students, and implicit biases. 1-4 Furthermore, the field is competitive, with many more applicants than available positions. In 2022, there were 851 applicants competing for 492 residency positions in dermatology. 5 Thus, it is important to educate young students about dermatology and understand root causes as to why the number of u nderrepresented in medicine (UiM) dermatologists remains stagnant.

According to Pritchett et al,4 it is crucial for dermatologists to interact with high school and college students to foster an early interest in dermatology. Many racial minority students do not progress from high school to college and then from college to medical school, which leaves a substantially reduced number of eligible UiM applicants who can progress into dermatology.6 Increasing the amount of UiM students going to medical school requires early mediation. Collaborating with pre-existing premedical school organizations through presentations and workshops is another way to promote an early interest in dermatology.4 Special consideration should be given to students who are UiM.

Among the general medical school curriculum, requirements for exposure to dermatology are not high. In one study, the median number of clinical and preclinical hours required was 10. Furthermore, 20% of 33 medical schools did not require preclinical dermatology hours (hours done before medical school rotations begin and in an academic setting), 36% required no clinical hours (rotational hours), 8% required no dermatology hours whatsoever, and only 10% required clinical dermatology rotation.3 Based on these findings, it is clear that dermatology is not well incorporated into medical school curricula. Furthermore, curricula have historically neglected to display adequate representation of skin of color.7 As a result, medical students generally have limited exposure to dermatology3 and are exposed even less to presentations of dermatologic issues in historically marginalized populations.7

Given the paucity of research on UiM students’ perceptions of dermatology prior to medical school, our cross-sectional survey study sought to evaluate the level of interest in dermatology of UiM premedical undergraduates. This survey specifically evaluated exposure to dermatology, preconceived notions about the field, and mentorship opportunities. By understanding these factors, dermatologists and dermatology residency programs can use this information to create mentorship opportunities and better adjust existing programs to meet students’ needs.


A 19-question multiple-choice survey was administered electronically (SurveyMonkey) in May 2020 to premedical students at Howard University (Washington, DC). One screening question was used: “What is your major?” Those who considered themselves a science major and/or with premedical interest were allowed to complete the survey. All students surveyed were members of the Health Professions Society at Howard University. Students who were interested in pursuing medical school were invited to respond. Approval for this study was obtained from the Howard University institutional review board (FWA00000891).

The survey was divided into 3 sections: Demographics, Exposure to Medicine and Dermatology, and Perceptions of Dermatology. The Demographics section addressed gender, age, and race/ethnicity. The Exposure to Medicine and Dermatology section addressed interest in attending medical school, shadowing experience, exposure to dermatology, and mentoring. The Perceptions of Dermatology section addressed preconceived notions about the field (eg, “dermatology is interesting and exciting”).

Statistical Analysis—The data represented are percentages based on the number of respondents who answered each question. Answers in response to “Please enter any comments” were organized into themes, and the number of respondents who discussed each theme was quantified into a table.


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