What Is a Dermatopathologist?

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Dermatopathology is a subspecialty of dermatology that focuses on identifying skin diseases by examining samples under a microscope. Dermatopathologists work with dermatologists and pathologists to help diagnose skin diseases.

This article reviews what type of skin diseases dermatopathologists investigate, as well as techniques and training.

Woman inspecting cells under microscope

Luis Alvarez / Getty Images


The main focus of a dermatopathologist is to aid in diagnosing skin diseases. Unlike dermatologists, who work directly with patients to examine and treat skin diseases, dermatopathologists are tasked with examining samples or biopsies of a person’s skin underneath a microscope to help determine what is happening on a cellular level.

While their job is different from that of a dermatologist, the two professions are linked. While the dermatologist works with patients, collects samples, and formulates a treatment plan, the dermatopathologist is designed to help with the diagnostic process. The two work together to help serve people with various skin conditions.

Dermatopathologists do not treat skin conditions, though they can identify the microscopic patterns of various skin conditions, such as:

Dermatopathologists and Skin Cancer

Dermatopathologists will also be asked to help identify skin cancer in samples provided by a dermatologist. People who choose this career path have very little interaction with patients but are vital to the diagnostic process that could save lives.


There are certain examination techniques used by dermatopathologists to help them identify abnormalities in skin samples. Techniques can include:

  • Stains: Stains use dyes and chemicals on sections of skin to help highlight and identify any cellular abnormalities or substances that could indicate disease.
  • Frozen sections: Frozen sections are rarely used, however, they can be in instances in which a dermatologist needs to make a quick diagnosis during surgery. The skin sample is frozen and then examined under a microscope right away using a stain.
  • Immunohistochemistry: By using the body’s antibodies, this technique identifies locations of specific antigens, which are molecules that alert the immune system to react. Then a stain is used to see the interaction between both the antigens and antibodies.
  • Direct immunofluorescence: This is a type of staining that is designed to identify specific autoimmune skin diseases, which are diseases that occur when the immune system mistakes healthy skin cells for foreign invaders and begins attacking them. 

How Are Dermatopathologists Trained?

Dermatopathologists have the degree of either doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO).

To obtain an MD degree, they have to complete an undergraduate four-year college program and take premedical courses to be able to apply to medical school upon graduation. Passing the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is also a requirement to be accepted into medical school.

Medical school is split up into two categories, which are:

  • In-class learning is done for the first two years of medical school.
  • Clinical learning is a type of hands-on learning that is done within hospitals. This occurs during the second two years of medical school.

After graduating from medical school, a person is awarded their degree as a doctor of medicine.

New doctors must also obtain a license to practice medicine in their state, as well as complete a residency program of their choosing. A person looking to become a dermatopathologist has two routes they can take during their residency: practice dermatology or practice pathology.

To become a dermatopathologist, you must have certification with either the American Board of Dermatology as a dermatologist or the American Board of Pathology as a pathologist prior to taking a one-year training course specializing in dermatopathology.  

After all schooling and training is complete, those looking to become dermatopathologists must complete a final exam.


Dermatopathology is a subspecialty of dermatology and pathology. Dermatopathologists aid in the diagnostic process for skin conditions by examining skin tissue cells to look for abnormalities and see if there are any signs of disease.

While they do not treat diseases, dermatopathologists are vital to the diagnosis process. Because of this, they require the same level of schooling and training as other doctors. That said, they also have to take an extra year of specialized training to be able to work in the highly specialized area of dermatopathology.

A Word From Verywell

A career in dermatopathology requires a lot of dedication and a significant time commitment, but it is an admirable and interesting career path. If you do decide to take this route, you can help dermatologists diagnose various skin diseases. Since many skin diseases, including skin cancer, can be fatal, becoming a dermatopathologist means you could make a positive change in people's lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s the difference between a dermatologist and a dermatopathologist?

    Both dermatologists and dermatopathologists specialize in skin diseases and conditions. Dermatologists meet and work with patients directly, helping create treatment plans for various skin disorders. Dermatopathologists work behind the scenes in a lab to help diagnose skin diseases by examining skin samples under a microscope.

  • Is it hard to become a dermatopathologist?

    Becoming a doctor of any kind is considered to be one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, career options there is. The journey toward becoming a dermatopathologist is long and can take a minimum of 12 years. However, if you are passionate about skin health and pathology, it’s an excellent career option.

  • Are dermatopathologists "real" doctors?

    While a dermatopathologist doesn’t work with patients directly, they are real doctors. They are required to go through all the same medical training as any other doctor. They have chosen to practice in a subspecialty of pathology as opposed to a patient-centered field of medicine.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. DermNet NZ. Dermatopathology.

  2. Sheikh UA, Sufficool KE, Buchanan P, Armbrecht ES, Burkemper NM, Vidal CI. Dermatopathologist assessment of "pathologist-to-dermatologist" communication for dermatopathology services. J Cutan Pathol. 2020;47(4):328-338. doi:10.1111/cup.13626

  3. Ronchi A, Pagliuca F, Zito Marino F, et al. Second diagnostic opinion by experienced dermatopathologists in the setting of a referral regional melanoma unit significantly improves the clinical management of patients with cutaneous melanoma. Front Med. 2021;7:568946. doi:10.3389/fmed.2020.568946

  4. DermNet NZ. Dermatopathology: special stains and tests.

  5. American Board of Dermatology. Dermatopathology.

By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.