“So you are telling me that you were sick for two weeks with the flu and did not skip work to head down to that safari vacation in Tanzania?” A dermatologist asks his nurse.
“Yep. I have no idea what is wrong with my leg,” the nurse replies as she points down to her watermelon sized thighs.
“Judging from your massively enlarged legs and fever, I would have to say that you have a case of elephantiasis.”
“Gawd. I did see one elephant while I was there!”
“It isn’t from an elephant. It’s from a mosquito.”
Elephantiasis is a serious disease that affects millions of people in Africa and India. Female mosquitoes transmit worms when they are feeding. These small, parasitic worms lodge themselves in the lymphatic system and prevent the body from adequately draining. Oftentimes, treatment includes amputating limps. You were done eating, right?
Skin doctors may not see a case of elephantiasis in their lifetime, but they do see a host of other gross diseases and skin problems. Needless to say, dermatologists have to have pretty strong stomachs.
The skin is the body’s largest organ. No laughing, please. Skin takes a beating from external factors like sun, rain and wind, not to mention pollution. Just about everyone has had a skin problem at some point in their lives, whether it be a sunburn, acne or a rare condition in which your skin stretches and turns green whenever you get angry. As our ozone thins out to the thickness of a slice of New York pizza, melanoma rates soar. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma among people aged 18 to 39 has grown 800% for women and 400% for men. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Which means that not enough people are wearing sunblock. It also means that skin doctors are busy. In fact, the employment rate in the biz is up 24%, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. It’s no 800%, but they’ll take what they can get.
Dermatologists not only treat skin diseases, but also hair, nail and mucus membrane problems (the lining inside of your mouth, nose and eyelids). Patients with hair loss, skin cancer, burns, skin allergies, warts and sexually transmitted diseases go to dermatologists. (Sounds like a great place to pick up a date.) A patient comes in with a rash or other ailment and a skin doctor is able to notice the subtle nuances of the problem to make a diagnosis. In fact, skin doctors know how to treat over 3,000 different diseases. How could anyone know about 3,000 diseases?
Becoming a dermatologist is a lengthy process. Currently, there is not a Dermatology for Dummies book on the market. You also can’t take an online course to become a dermatologist. You can’t become certified merely by treating your World of Warcraft character’s poison oak. You have to go to a real life school and practice on real life people.
Students go through four years to earn their undergraduate degree, four years in medical school, one year in an internship program and three years in a residency program. It takes people roughly 12 to 14 years before they are able to open their own practice or see patients without reporting to another doctor.
What type of person becomes a dermatologist? If you love science, enjoy people, are interested in helping solve some of the mysteries of human skin, and aren’t entirely turned off by the sight of open sores, you might make a good skin doctor. Many people become dermatologists after experiencing their own health issue. For example, Dr. Clarence Wiley, dermatologist at the Dermatology & Enhancement Institute in Oklahoma City, became a dermatologist after his skin disorder was diagnosed as a fungal overgrowth. Doesn’t sound good. After suffering from the embarrassing condition for years, the rash cleared in three weeks with topical cream. Stories like his are common in the dermatology community. You have the ability to not only alleviate pain, but also to raise someone’s self-esteem. In fact, with an injection of Clostridium botulinum into a patient’s face, you have the opportunity to lift a lot more than just their spirit.
Clostridium botulinum, or Botox, is used to remove wrinkles, relieve severe underarm sweating and help people suffering from uncontrollable blinking. And you thought that girl was just being flirty. Botox works by paralyzing certain muscles. If you have ever gotten food poisoning, you may have ingested the same bacteria. However, Botox injections will not cause a severe foodborne illness. It could instead make you look younger or solve a health problem. Three cheers for bacteria!