The Truth About Visiting the Dermatologist

How do you know when you need to go to the dermatologist? What should you expect at your first dermatologist appointment? Washington DC-based board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Cheri Frey, went live with Dermablend on Instagram to answer all of our questions about getting started with dermatology, what a dermatologist does, and why they are so qualified to help us with our skincare questions. If you missed the live conversation, you can catch it on our IGTV, or you can read up on Dr. Frey’s expert tips here.

What does it take to become a dermatologist?

We all know that doctors go through years of schooling, but what exactly is the process to become a board-certified dermatologist? Dr. Frey explains, “Dermatologists are medical doctors. Nowadays, there are so many people who have some expertise in skin, but it is very important to determine what everyone’s role is. For a dermatologist, medical school is first, and in school you have to decide on some specialty where you spend some additional years training, which is called a residency. For dermatology, you’re required to do one year of general medicine, and then three years of specialized training in dermatology, specializing in hair, skin, and nails.”

What exactly does a dermatologist do?

Dr. Frey filled us in that dermatologists learn a wide array of techniques in their training including, “surgeries like skin cancer removal or cosmetic surgery, as well as aesthetic treatments like chemical peels, fillers, toxins, and laser devices.” In addition to all of that, Dr. Frey says, “Dermatologists are also specialists in pathology which is looking at the skin, hair, and nails under the microscope to find out what the cause is or other things that might be associated with your condition.”

What should you know before visiting the dermatologist?

Now knowing that they are the ultimate experts for any of your skin health concerns, you might be getting ready to schedule an appointment with your nearest board-certified dermatologist. Dr. Frey points out a few things that you should do to prepare before your visit.

  1. 1. Do your research: “The last thing you want is to need a dermatologist today and not have one,” so Dr. Frey recommends researching dermatologists, checking to see what is covered by your insurance, and calling offices to see how far out they are booked. Because wait times for dermatologists can be months long in some areas, she says, “It may be a good idea to establish care before you have a specific issue.”
  2. 2.Understand it might be quick: “Because dermatologists are specialists, we have a high volume of people to see,” Dr. Frey explained. “Visits are usually 10-15 minutes depending on what you're coming in for. We are trained in visual diagnosis, so what may seem like a quick glance to you is actually a pretty long time for a dermatologist. It doesn’t have to take long for them to diagnose you. But that doesn’t mean that you should feel like you’re at a place where you’re not heard. You should absolutely feel comfortable asking questions, but because these appointments are short, it’s good to come in prepared.”
  3. 3. Make a list: To make efficient use out of a short window of time with a dermatologist, it can be helpful to list your questions and concerns in order of priority. Dr. Frey suggests, “Think about your discussion points and what you want to get out of the visit. Prioritize your questions and concerns.” If you cover the most important topics in your visit but still have items on your list, you can make a follow up appointment to continue the conversation. Remember that dermatologists are focused on you skin’s health, and not just it’s appearance. Dr. Frey says, “The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the skin is the window to your health,” so be ready to answer questions about your overall health.
  4. 4.Be prepared to get undressed for a skin exam: “I need to see your skin to correctly diagnose you and give you the best treatment plan,” Dr. Frey explains. The same logic goes for any examination of hair or nails by a dermatologist. If the dermatologist needs to examine your hair, wear it out in a way that the doctor can separate it and manipulate it. If you have a nail issue, make sure you are not wearing nail polish for your visit.
  5. 5.Know that consistency is key: Dr. Frey summed it up by saying, “You never know how much you need a dermatologist until you know one!” Your first visit to the dermatologist is just a starting point for an ongoing relationship. To achieve you skin health goals, it will be important to adhere to any treatment plans or follow up visits that your dermatologist recommends.