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The Ultimate Guide to Working as Dermatology Nurse

What Is Dermatology Nursing? The Ultimate Guide 

As the US population ages, the demand for nursing care increases, and dermatology nursing is no exception. People over sixty-five have a higher burden of skin disease, requiring the care of dermatologists, nurse practitioners (NPs), and dermatology nurses. In fact, the shortage of dermatologists has led to an ever-increasing number of NPs in dermatology. 

Are you interested in dermatology nursing? Whether you are a nursing student, a licensed practical nurse (LPN), a registered nurse (RN), or an NP, this ultimate guide covers everything you need to know about this nursing specialty.

Table of Contents

What Does Dermatology Mean in Medical Terms?

Dermatology nurse

The definition of dermatology is “a branch of medicine dealing with the skin, its structure, functions, and diseases.” Healthcare professionals working in dermatology include the following:

  • Adult and pediatric dermatologists
  • Dermatopathologists
  • Dermatologic surgeons
  • Dermatology nurse practitioners
  • Dermatology RNs and LPNs

Dermatology and dermatopathology specialists are experts in genetics, immunology, melanoma, oral disease, pathology, pediatrics, pharmacology, public health, and surgery. Dermatologic surgeons perform micrographically oriented histographic surgery (Mohs), laser surgery, cosmetic surgery, and other dermatologic surgical procedures.

Skin disease experts don’t work in isolation but rather collaborate with other specialists, including oncologists, surgeons, endocrinologists, clinical genomics, neurologists, and plastic and reconstructive surgeons.

Dermatology patients may require healthcare services to treat diseases of the skin, mucous membranes, and nails, as well as hair loss and facial aging. Additionally, many patients have other health conditions related to their skin problems, such as cancer or an immune system disorder.

In the case of cosmetic dermatology, procedures may help to restore skin after a medical or surgical intervention or trauma; these procedures can also help people look younger or feel more confident.

Cosmetic surgical procedures include breast augmentation, tummy tucks, and face lifts. Furthermore, nonsurgical cosmetic procedures include body contouring, laser hair removal, fillers, and injectables. Cosmetic dermatology specialists collaborate with other specialty areas, such as plastic and reconstructive surgery, vascular surgery, gynecology, ophthalmology, and otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat).

What Does Derm Stand For?

The abbreviation “derm” is short for dermatology. This abbreviation is often used to refer to dermatology nurses, aka derm nurses. A derm or skin care nurse—LPN, RN, or NP—may work in a hospital dermatology department, an outpatient clinic, or a physician’s office providing or assisting with dermatologic care. 

What Is a Dermatology Department in a Hospital?

Some hospitals have dermatology departments or units specializing in the treatment and care of patients with conditions of the skin, mucous membranes, nails, and hair, including the following health conditions or healthcare needs:

  • Melanoma and pigmented lesions
  • Cutaneous lymphomas
  • Merkel cell carcinoma
  • Graft vs. host disease
  • Toxicities of cancer chemotherapies
  • Infectious disease
  • Wound healing
  • Dermatology/Rheumatology
  • Phototherapy
  • Autoimmune blistering diseases
  • Vitiligo
  • Hair disorders
  • Aesthetic dermatology
  • Allergic contact dermatitis
  • Mohs

Hospital dermatology departments may offer telehealth consults for dermatology. In other words, patients may be able to schedule a virtual appointment before, after, or instead of face-to-face care. 

What Is the Role of a Cosmetic Dermatology Nurse? What Does a Derm Nurse Do?

Dermatology nurse

Nurses at all levels of education may work in dermatology. Since there is a direct relationship between a dermatology nurse’s level of education and their responsibilities, there is no simple answer to this question. However, to get a general idea of the duties of a dermatology nurse, let’s take a look at typical duties of a cosmetic derm LPN working in a dermatology ambulatory care setting:

  • Providing nursing care based on scientific principles and the use of the nursing process
  • Providing and maintaining a therapeutic environment for patients and families
  • Communicating the plan of care and other pertinent information to other patient care members
  • Coordinating involvement of the patient, family, and healthcare team members to ensure effective patient teaching
  • Triaging patient phone calls
  • Informing patients of all lab results per physician protocols
  • Keeping a log of all biopsies and ensuring all necessary appointments are scheduled 
  • Reporting and documenting all relevant patient information 
  • Using Epitomyze or Epic to file patient pictures 
  • Drawing blood
  • Administering injections
  • Interviewing patients and preparing them for cosmetic procedures
  • Giving all pre- and post-procedure instructions
  • Assisting physicians in setting up and performing cosmetic procedures 
  • Utilizing and conserving equipment and supplies
  • Ordering medical supplies and maintaining appropriate inventory
  • Training in all cosmetic procedures, including procedures utilizing lasers

To round out our understanding of the role of a dermatology nurse, here are two descriptions offered by derm nurses on Reddit:

“Dermatology LPN here. Just started working at a very busy clinic a few months ago. I primarily do cryo and electrocautery treatments for warts, and skin tags, but also perform minor procedures (shave and punch biopsies). I also assist the physician with more intensive procedures.” – Reddit user Longhurdontcurr

“Derm RN here! Biological coordinator for psoriasis and cosmetics doc at large practice 🙂…Look over schedule before doc gets in, try to keep him organized, prep charts with labs for patients on serious meds (humira, taltz, cosentyx) prep surgical trays, surgical asst, specimen collection, prior authorizations for meds, teaching self injection, skin exam documentation, wound/incision care, calling patients with positive pathology i.e. Basal cell or malignant melanoma...there's more but these are some basic duties.” – Reddit user whitemoonlily

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How to Become a Derm Nurse and How Long Does It Take?

As we have mentioned, nurses at all levels of education can work in dermatology. Therefore, aspiring derm nurses have multiple pathways to choose from:

  • A licensed practical nurse program takes approximately one year. 
  • An associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) takes approximately two years and prepares nurses to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to become registered nurses. 
  • A bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) typically takes four years and also prepares graduates for the NCELX and RN licensure. Although both an ADN and a BSN qualify graduates to become registered nurses, employers usually prefer hiring nurses with BSNs and may even require this level of education.
  • An RN may also complete a master's degree, post-master's certificate, or Doctor of Nursing Practice with an accredited program to become a nurse practitioner, which takes at least another two years of study. NPs must complete education, certification, and licensure in one of six areas: family/individual across the life span, adult gerontology, neonatal, pediatrics, women's health/gender-related, and psychiatric/mental health. NPs specializing in dermatology require additional knowledge and expertise guided by the Scope of Practice and Standards of Care for Nurse Practitioners in Dermatology. They also may obtain additional specialty education through post-master's dermatology NP training programs, continuing education, and on-the-job training with board-certified dermatologists and expert dermatology NPs. Currently, there are only two formal post-master's dermatology NP training programs in the United States:
  • The Lahey Dermatology Nurse Practitioner Training Program in Burlington, Massachusetts
  • The NP Dermatology Post-Masters Training Program at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio

Dermatology Nurse Certification?

According to the Dermatology Nurses’ Association, dermatology nursing certifications demonstrate that nurses have acquired specialized knowledge and adhere to specialized nursing standards, which confer upon certified nurses peer and public recognition and ensure greater patient protection. 

Aside from basic certifications, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), RNs and NPs working in dermatology may pursue the following certifications offered by the Dermatology Nursing Certification Board (DNCB):

  • The Dermatology Nurse Certified (DNC) requires a current, unrestricted RN license, at least two years of dermatology nursing experience as an RN, and at least 2,000 hours of work experience in dermatology nursing in the past two years. This test measures an RN’s ability to perform in the following areas:
  • Assess and monitor the status of patients with dermatologic disorders before, during, and after treatment
  • Plan, administer (or assist others in administering), and monitor the medical, surgical, and phototherapeutic interventions for patients with dermatologic disorders
  • Select appropriate strategies to meet the educational, health promotion, and psycho-socio-cultural needs of dermatology patients, their families, and the community
  • Coordinate care to ensure safe, efficient delivery of high-quality dermatology care in collaboration with other healthcare providers and community resources
  • The Dermatology Certified Nurse Practitioner (DCNP) requires licensed NPs to have at least 3,000 hours of dermatology nursing experience. This exam includes ten patient problems and five NP activities, including the following:
  • Assessment and diagnosis of acute and chronic conditions that occur across the lifespan
  • Prescribing interventions, including evidence-based treatment, therapies, and procedures
  • Teaching patients, family members, communities, and colleagues about the prevention and management of dermatological conditions 
  • Consulting for and with peers and other healthcare professionals regarding specific cases 
  • Analyzing research data to implement effective evidence-based data

How Much Does a Dermatology Nurse Make?

Dermatology nurse

The single most important factor in determining a nurse’s salary is their level of education. In other words, an RN’s salary is significantly higher than an LPN’s, and an NP’s salary is also significantly higher than an RN’s. With this in mind, let’s take a look at average nurse salaries at different levels of education in the settings where dermatology nurses work:

Dermatology Licensed Practical Nurse Salary

  • Outpatient care centers: $58,170
  • Hospitals: $48,050
  • Offices of physicians: $46,950

Dermatology Registered Nurse Salary

  • Outpatient care centers: $93,070
  • Hospitals: $84,800 – $85,020
  • Offices of physicians: $73,860

Dermatology Nurse Practitioner Salary

  • Outpatient care centers: $129,190
  • General medical and surgical hospitals: $122,960
  • Offices of physicians: $114,870
  • Offices of other health practitioners: $108,890

What Is Dermatology Nursing Like?

In addition to learning about responsibilities and salary, nurses want to know what working in a specific specialty will be like: schedule, level of stress, types of patients, etc. Therefore, without further ado, let’s see what derm nurses on Reddit have to say about their jobs:

“I worked in derm for a few years. Common problems patients come in for are acne, eczema, allergies and strange growths/moles they want checked out. Sometimes there's more serious stuff too like burns or autoimmune conditions. If the practice does cosmetics it's good to know about injections, fillers, lasers. Derm is interesting because you get some medical (labs, wounds, pt education) and surgical (removal of pre cancerous or cancerous lesions). You also get to work with patients of all ages (peds to geriatrics). Its a fun area though as with all out patient areas even though it's considered "less stressful" than hospital work you will be very busy with patient volume as clinics will try to see as many as possible everyday.” – Reddit user Missfairysan

“Hi! I work for a medical derm office. I love it- nurses do laser, photo and photodynamic therapy. The docs do a ton of biopsies; we are there to identify and treat skin cancer. We also see higher acuity patients with skin conditions secondary to complex conditions (cutaneous t-cell lymphoma, Pemphigus, etc). We don’t do any cosmetic procedures with the exception of facial fillers for HIV patients.” – Reddit user Goodluckmargarine

Regarding schedule, outpatient clinics and physician’s offices usually operate during office hours. In other words, most derm nurses can expect to work five eight-hour daytime shifts per week—Monday through Friday. That said, a derm nurse working in a hospital inpatient burn unit, for example, may have to work night shifts or cover shifts over weekends and holidays.

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Is Dermatology Nursing Stressful?

Many different aspects can contribute to a nurse’s perception of the stress caused by a job. Dermatology nurses rarely have to face patient deaths as hospice nurses do on a regular basis. Most derm nurses don’t worry about their patients after work or on their days off as many NICU nurses do. However, this specialty has its own challenges. The following testimonials help illustrate some of the difficulties of working as a derm nurse:

“It can be stressful because we see a high volume of patients in short timeframes, in addition to managing calls, messages, etc. Overall, it’s a much different kind of stress from other types of nursing considering our population is generally healthy. We do manage the higher acuity cutaneous lymphoma population, so there is definitely some variety.” – Reddit user Goodluckmargarine

“It’s a lot to learn, so I would study on the weekends (and to me, my time off is precious and I want to spend it with my family!)... it was a lot of just wrote memorization instead of critical thinking, which just isn’t my cup of tea. There are so many variations in dermatology it’s hard to remember so much. I think someone who has photographic memory could be really good at dermatology, but again I prefer a more critical thinking type of diagnoses. Out of all the fields I’ve worked in, I found dermatology patients to be the most entitled and rude as a whole (of course there are always super lovely people but I found more rude patients in this field). I was also expected to see a lot of patients in one day and it was very stressful” – Reddit user Shield_Maiden600

Why Choose Dermatology Nursing?

Dermatology nurse

Despite challenges, many nurses love dermatology and hope to stay in the field until retirement. Let’s see why these derm nurse practitioners on Reddit love their jobs:

“Derm NP who's been an NP in derm for 3-3.5 years and worked as a derm RN for 6-6.5 years (10 year anniversary this year). I love my job and have stayed loyal to my facility because of extensive advancement opportunities and honestly if all goes well I plan to retire here…Cosmetic derm is a bore personally…Medical derm gives me joy because it's intellectually stimulating and I know about 90% of the conditions from history alone based on my experience as an RN working alongside a variety of dermatologists, derm PAs, and derm NPs.” – Reddit user Koga_The_King

“I'm a derm NP and I absolutely love it. Every day is different and I love trying to figure out the best treatment plan for each patient because everyone's skin and circumstances is so different. I've been practicing as an NP for 2.5 years. I'm independent in my state, but am very well supported by the other dermatologists at my practice. I'm currently working at a general medical dermatology practice. I see anywhere from 10-18 patients a day. I do skin checks, biopsies, cryotherapy, excisions, laser treatments and treat a variety of skin conditions. I love the medical aspect and do very little cosmetically, sometimes botox and laser treatments. But, I have the option to do as much or as little as I want, I have a lot of freedom.” – Reddit user amepp

What Makes a Good Dermatology Nurse: Tips for New Nurses?

In addition to completing a nursing program and accruing experience and certifications, the following are skills and attitudes that employers and hiring charge nurses look for in potential hires:

  • Maintaining and updating clinical knowledge and skills
  • Participating in relevant continuing educational programs, including a Laser Safety Course
  • Joining the Dermatology Nurses’ Association
  • Providing the highest level of patient care and services 
  • Showing initiative and exercising independent judgment, decision-making, and problem-solving expertise
  • Demonstrating the ability to work independently
  • Having a team-oriented attitude, interacting easily with physicians, managers, and other staff 
  • Demonstrating effective communication skills
  • Being both organized and flexible

“I am the charge nurse so I am responsible for hiring of nurses and assistants.The qualities I look for in candidates are a positive team-oriented attitude and genuine interest in the specialty. The current team of nurses come from diverse backgrounds (ICU, trauma, home health, OR, ED)…We have nurses asking to shadow in our clinic regularly. Even if we weren’t hiring at the time, I always remember those nurses and think of them first if there’s an opening. It would be worthwhile to contact a derm clinic near you and ask if shadowing is an option- that way you get your foot in the door and some understanding if it’s a good fit for you.” – Reddit user Goodluckmargarine

“Most new NPs struggle in derm unless they are precepted by their collaborating dermatologist well and are not afraid study on their own regularly outside of CME requirements…Most new derm practices are criticized for not precepting appropriately so you are only as good as your teacher. If you have the luxury of doing what I did working as a nurse first in the field, you will get experience that even Residents and some Fellows in derm would be envious to have.” – Reddit user Koga_The_King

Final Thoughts on Dermatology Nursing

If the thought of working regular office hours treating and caring for mostly healthy and almost always stable patients makes you sigh with relief, derm nursing might be the perfect career path for you. On the other hand, if this description sounds boring, you might want to explore other nursing specialties, such as emergency room (ER) or intensive care unit (ICU) nursing.
Furthermore, if you are not ready to commit to a specific specialty, consider picking up PRN nursing shifts near you to get a feel for different nursing roles and healthcare facilities.

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