Whether you have a question about your skin, you are looking for preventative skin care, or you are having a problem like a rash or a changing mole, it is important to know where to go for help. This article provides a guide to the different types of professionals who help to keep skin healthy and looking its best.
A dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and management of skin diseases. These professionals have had extensive education, including four years of college and four years of medical school. They then receive hands-on training, first for one year of internship in either internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, or a combination of the three.
They then complete three years of dermatology training in the United States, and four years in Canada. This training is called residency. Some dermatologists go on for additional fellowship training as well. Areas of sub-specialty training include pediatric dermatology, dermatopathology, Moh’s surgery, laser surgery, and procedural dermatology.
In the United States, anyone who has completed a dermatology residency training program is then eligible to sit for the American Board of Dermatology examination, commonly referred to as “the boards”. These people are called “board eligible”. Once the doctor passes the examination he or she is then “board certified”.
Most countries have similar certifying examinations. In Canada dermatologists are certified by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
The Primary Care Doctor
Primary care doctors include internists, family practitioners, general practitioners, and pediatricians. For many people, their trusted primary care doctor is the first stop for all health related questions, including skin questions. Some primary care doctors perform full-body skin examinations, provide an opinion on whether a growth is benign or if it needs a biopsy, and will treat routine conditions like acne and eczema.
The amount of skin care a primary care doctor provides depends on the level of her education and training in the skin and its diseases, her comfort in managing these conditions, and often on her patient load. A primary care doctor who takes care of many sick patients may refer even basic skin conditions to the dermatologist to have more time to focus on her patients who are more sick.
A great doctor knows when to treat the patient and when to refer them to a dermatologist for specialist care. As with your dermatologist, knowing that your primary care doctor is board-certified will provide you with a certain level of confidence about her amount of training and ongoing medical education.
The Physician’s Assistant
Physician’s assistants, or Pas, are commonly employed in dermatologists’ offices. They are health care providers who have had two or three years of formal health education after college, including both classroom work and clinical rotations in several medical specialties.
Unlike physicians, Pas do not complete a residency after completing their education. They are trained by the physician who employs them in the specialty of that physician. They may work in different specialties during different parts of their career. It is of course, in a doctor’s best interest to train his PA well since the doctor is still ultimately responsible for the care the PA provides and for the health of the patient.
While Pas have been an integral part of the health care system in the United States for many years, other countries, including Canada, are also starting to have similar training programs.
The Nurse Practitioner
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are found in many countries throughout the world, and are sometimes also called advanced
practice nurses. They are registered nurses who obtain masters or doctoral level education in nursing and pass a certifying examination. Unlike PAs, NPs may obtain board certification in a specific field of medicine, although dermatology is not currently one of these fields.
In some places NPs are able to practice completely independently, in others they must have an association with a physician. NPs are able to diagnose and treat medical conditions and often manage routine skin diseases. They take your medical history, perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat medical conditions, and prescribe medications.
NPs most commonly work in primary care fields but may occasionally be found in the dermatologist’s office as well.
Estheticians are people who are trained in providing skin care services and recommending skin care products.
In addition to obtaining their classroom education at beauty school, these professionals are required to complete hundreds of hours of training and have to pass an examination.
Estheticians often work in physicians’ offices and are also found in salons and spas. They provide services, such as facials, superficial chemical peels, microdermabrasion, waxing, body wraps, etc. While estheticians do not diagnose or treat medical problems, they are often the first ones to point out something questionable on your skin and may refer you to a dermatologist for evaluation.
The Beauty Advisor
Beauty advisors are found in cosmetics retail stores and at the cosmetics counters in department stores. They are sales people who are trained in the uses and benefits of the skin care and cosmetics products that they represent.
They may offer product advice, consultation sessions, and makeovers to guide you in choosing form the seemingly countless number of products at the cosmetics counter. A great beauty advisor is able to educate you and help you make good product choices. She helps you find what you need and is not just making a sale.