What is a Dermatologist?

Dermatologists, Ashley Smith MD and Shala Fardin MD

While we here at SMD are somewhat obsessed with all things skin-related, we realize some people are new to skin healthcare and may not fully understand what a dermatologist does.  So, please let us explain!


  • A dermatologist is a physician (MD or DO) that has completed residency (a clinical training after graduating medical school) in dermatology through an accredited (government-approved) program. 
  • This training encompasses the medical and surgical treatment of conditions affecting the epidermis (skin) and its appendages, including hair, nails, and even the outer skin components of the eyes, oral mucosa (mouth), and genital skin. 
  • All dermatologists train in medical dermatology as well as basic surgical procedures of the skin. 
  • Some dermatologists will then further sub-specialize in skin cancer surgery (such as Mohs surgery), pediatric dermatology, dermatopathology, or, like Dr. Smith, in advanced cosmetic surgical procedures (cosmetic dermatologic surgeon).


Although there are accredited fellowships (extended training) for the  sub-specialties listed above, all dermatologists get basic training in these fields and can technically practice in any of these areas.  In addition, most dermatology residency programs in the past 10 years offer considerable cosmetic procedural training, such as hands-on training and lectures on the theory behind laser procedures, fillers and other injectables, as well as more advanced procedures such as hair transplantation, vein therapy, liposuction, and facial cosmetic surgeries. 


Some dermatologists will also elect to do additional fellowship training (usually 1-2 years after their residency is complete) in a specific dermatology focused specialty.  Dr. Fardin chose to focus her elective time during her residency on learning about laser and cosmetic procedures, training with several experts at Harvard and MGH/Wellman Labs of Photomedicine.  Dr. Smith performed a cosmetic fellowship after residency, and did an extra year of intense, dedicated cosmetic surgery training at the California Skin Institute in Silicon Valley under a renowned dermatological surgeon. In this training she learned advanced techniques such as eyelid surgery, liposuction, and  facelifts.


When choosing a dermatologist, we recommend you look for board-certification and verify their training, including what type of specialized instruction they have received, to see if it aligns with your specific dermatological needs.  Also look for membership in the major dermatological societies, such as the American Academy of Dermatology, in which Dr. Smith and Dr. Fardin are both Fellows. 


Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be thorough in your research.  We are often surprised at how many physicians advertise themselves as “dermatologists” when they are actually trained in another specialty! 


What’s most important is that you’re able to find the best match for you. 

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