How I became a Dermatology Physician Assistant

posted on: October 3, 2014

Dermatolgoy Books

While in PA school you go through what seems like endless modules of every system in the body. You start to get a taste of what specialities you like (or even faster, those you don’t like) but it’s not until you start your rotations do you really learn what each speciality is all about. While in PA school you will do on average 7-10 rotations in various specialities: family medicine, obstetrics, orthopedics, pediatrics, surgery, ER, internal medicine, etc… At the end of your PA program you will be primary care trained and can start working without additional training. However, you are able to work in a speciality as a PA with additional training. You can either find a residency/fellowship program for PAs in the desired speciality or you would need to find a physician who is willing to train you. Both of those options can be difficult to find as a new graduate but it is possible.

While in my 3rd year of PA school I had narrowed down what specialties I wanted to pursue. I really enjoyed aesthetics and thought I would pursue plastic surgery. At my program our last rotation involved 2 days in the clinic in the speciality of your choice and the rest of the time was spent on campus working on our thesis. I had my advanced plastic surgery rotation all set up when I was chatting with my mom and she mentioned that she had an appointment that week with her dermatologist, Dr. Sandra Lee. I told her I was going to tag along with her to the appointment to try to get my foot in the door and do some networking. I introduced myself to Dr. Lee and told her I was in PA school and interested in Dermatology. She kindly educated me about the procedure she was preforming on my mom like I was already a student under her wing. A week later I received a call from Dr. Lee inquiring if I was really interested in Dermatology. I told her I was very interested in aesthetics and did not know if I wanted to pursue plastics or dermatology. She offered me to do my advanced rotation at her office to see what I thought about both medical and cosmetic dermatology. I was able to move my advanced rotation from plastics to dermatology and spend 4 months at her and her husband’s office. While there I rotated with one other student from a program in New York. I must have done something right because Dr. Lee and Dr. Rebish offered me a job when we met up for dinner when were all in San Francisco attending a Dermatology conference.  I will never forget calling my husband while in a bathroom stall whispering, “They offered me a job!” After graduation both Dr. Lee and Dr. Rebish took on the task of providing me advanced training in dermatology. They are a great team where Dr. Rebish focused my training in medical dermatology; Dr. Lee was my go to gal for surgical and cosmetic dermatology. I joined the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants (SDPA) which has great resources for new graduates as well as PA students. I highly recommend joining a PA society in your chosen speciality (I’ll give you some of those resources in an upcoming post).  I attended Dermatology conferences including those put on by the SDPA and Maui Derm. I also did advanced training courses in various lasers treatments, dermal fillers and neurotoxins. I am so thankful for Dr. Lee and Dr. Rebish hiring me as a new graduate and now 5 years later I couldn’t be happier. I think the take home message here is that this job opportunity was not posted on monster or craigslist, It all started with me crashing my mom’s doctor’s appointment and that’s what opened this opportunity. If you want to get into certain specialities as a PA you really have to create those opportunities.

  • Katie Smith, PA-C

    Girlfriend you are holding some fantastic books! From one Derm PA to another- what are your favorite books for other Derm PA’s? Specifically ones early in their career?

    • Erin

      I’ve read Andrew’s Diseases of the Skin cover to cover multiple times. It’s my go-to guide. Comprehensive Dermatologic Drug Therapy by Wolverton is great for drugs and I like Hurwitz Clinical Pediatric Dermatology for the kiddos. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Vanessa

        Hi Erin,
        I am a RN going into Grad school this fall for Nurse practitioner. I live in GA ( 90 miles from Atlanta) & it’s hard for me to get into the field here ( in my city). I thought about trying to intern one day a week and commuting to Atlanta for that just to get experience. I really thought about moving back to Cali because it’s more popular there…. And I also thought about Florida. Do U have any advice ?

        • Erin

          Hey Vanessa,
          I am not an expert when it comes to PA/NP jobs in the south. I do know that California utilizes a lot of PAs. I think you have to figure out what is best for you.

  • Courtney

    Hey! I’m a sophomore in college and know for a fact I want to go to PA school. I’m also very interested in dermatology, I love Dr. Sandra Lee! Is there anything you suggest that I could do to better prepare myself for PA school?

    • Erin

      Find a few PA schools you are interested in applying to and make sure you are covering their perquisites. Also, hands-on-patient experience is of the utmost importance too. Good luck to you!

  • Desirae

    Hey Erin,
    Thanks for this post. I am a new graduate PA-C and just applied to some dermatology PA positions. I would love to connect with you and ask you some questions about your job and how you prepared for it if you don’t mind…I am noticing that a lot of doctors are not willing to train new graduates in derm and are hoping for more experience. I am hoping someone will give in eventually. Was it a steep learning curve to learn all these derm diseases and to be one efficient in your role? I’m trying to figure out how long it will take a PA to feel comfortable in such a specialized area of practice. We all know PA school doesn’t go into that much detail for Derm. Would you mind contacting me so that I would be able to get some information from you? I really appreciate your time and your post for all of us PAs who are curious but don’t know where to start! Thanks!!!