Study ranks derm specialty among the most satisfying

January 1, 2010
John Jesitus

John Jesitus is a medical writer based in Westminster, CO.

A recent study that ranks dermatology among the most satisfying medical specialties to practice finds agreement among dermatologists, who count the specialty's diversity, flexibility and visual nature among its charms.

Key Points

EDITOR'S NOTE: In this issue, we explore the many reasons why dermatology is among the top-ranked specialties for practitioner satisfaction. High on the list? The field's flexibility. We also look at how academia stacks up, and we detail what applicants need to do to score a dermatology residency - and to succeed in the long term.

National report - A recent study that ranks dermatology among the most satisfying medical specialties to practice finds agreement among dermatologists, who count the specialty's diversity, flexibility and visual nature among its charms.

Results of the 6,590-physician survey by the University of California, Davis, reveal that after adjusting for physician, practice and community characteristics, several specialties posted higher satisfaction levels than did family medicine.

Because dermatology also finished high in the survey's 2002 edition, "This isn't a statistical fluke," says Peter J. Lynch, M.D., professor emeritus of dermatology, University of California, Davis. Conversely, he says many other specialties identified as highly satisfying - such as geriatrics and pediatric emergency care - consist of very small groups whose status could fluctuate over time.

"What I and many dermatologists find most satisfying is the diversity of dermatology," says David J. Goldberg, M.D., J.D., director, Skin Laser & Surgery Specialists of New York/New Jersey. Dermatologists can treat all ages, focusing on medical, surgical and/or aesthetic dermatology, he explains. Furthermore, he says dermatologists who do some of everything can maintain profits by emphasizing aesthetic procedures in good times, versus medical dermatology in tighter times.

As a dermatologist, "You can have a balanced life," adds Becki Tung, M.D., a dermatologic surgeon who recently left the Cleveland Clinic to join DuPage Medical Group, a Naperville, Ill., multispecialty practice.

"You can have a very satisfying career, and time for your family," says Dr. Tung, who works four 10-hour days weekly. Additionally, she says strong demand for dermatologists enabled her to move smoothly from Cleveland to Chicago.

She brought her daughter (and later a son) to the office and nursed between patients. Accordingly, she says, "Dermatology allows a woman - especially in private practice - to call her own shots."

Salaries

Salaries for dermatologists also are attractive.

The Medical Group Management Association, which surveys physician salaries annually, reports that the median compensation for dermatologists in 2008 was $368,407 - higher than the figures reported for four out of seven other specialties compared.

However, Dr. Tung says the survey's inflation-adjusted figures, which show dermatology salaries currently flat or declining, do not reflect geographic variations in salary, or whether dermatologists are working part- or full-time.

"For me," she adds, "salary did not play a huge role" in choosing medical versus aesthetic dermatology, or dermatology as a specialty.

Joel Schlessinger, M.D., an Omaha, Neb., dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, says, "Salaries of any practitioner correlate to some degree with job satisfaction. But salary can't be the only reason for satisfaction, as there are many unhappy, but highly compensated, physicians."

In this tight economy, he adds, "Most practitioners who concentrate mainly on cosmetics are seeing at the very least a slowdown," if not a significant erosion of business. But medical dermatology, he says, remains "surprisingly strong."

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