How to Tell If You Need a Dermatologist

Find out whether you need a specialist for your skin rash

Woman scratching her skin

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If you have, say, a rash, you may be wondering: Do I need to see a doctor who specializes in skincare? And if so, what is a skin doctor called?

A skin doctor is called a dermatologist. And the first thing that you need to know about picking a dermatologist is that you may not actually need a dermatologist. In fact, there are several types of healthcare providers who can take care of basic skin conditions.

Types of Healthcare Providers Who Treat Skin Conditions

  • Nurse Practitioner: These types of providers, who are also called Advanced Practice Nurses (ANP), tend to be the most educated of all nurses. They obtain a Bachelor's degree in nursing, as well as a Master's degree and often specialize in a certain type of medicine. 
  • Physician Assistant: These types of medical professionals have completed a two-year medical training program instead of a four-year medical school. Many specialize in certain fields, just like doctors.
  • Primary Care Physician or General Practitioner: An M.D. or D.O. who specializes in internal medicine or family practice for adults (or pediatrics for children). This is your normal doctor, whom you should be seeing once a year for a general check-up.
  • Physician Specialist: Examples of specialists who take care of skin conditions include dermatologists, surgeons, and allergists.
  • Subspecialist: Subspecialties are the most narrow and require the most training. Examples are plastic surgery, dermatopathology, and Mohs micrographic surgery.

When to Seek Professional Advice

Generally, if you have a new rash, you should see your regular provider first. Many skin conditions don't require a specialist for diagnosis and treatment. If your primary care provider isn't sure what kind of rash you have or isn't sure how to treat it, he or she will refer you to a specialist.

You should also consider seeing a dermatologist if the regular regimen that your primary care physician developed for you is not working.

When to See a Dermatologist

Some conditions are pretty exclusively treated by dermatologists. These include severe forms of common diseases such as acne, atopic dermatitis, and rosacea. Also included are uncommon diseases such as pemphigus, porphyria, and cutaneous lupus.

Finally, most skin cancers are treated by dermatologists, sometimes in conjunction with a surgeon or subspecialist.

How to Find a Good Provider

To find a qualified skin doctor in your area, most specialties have websites that list board-certified doctors within that specialty. You can call your state's medical board to see if a specific provider has had any complaints against him or her. You can look up the doctor online and see what kind of credentials he or she has, as well as the types of reviews that he or she gets from patients.

As mentioned earlier, if you're looking for a specialist, you can ask your primary care physician for a referral. Finally, you can ask your friends and people within your community whether they have any recommendations. The good providers are usually well known.

How to Communicate With Your Provider

With all of these choices, where do you start? Most importantly, you should find a provider you can trust and communicate with comfortably. Communication is easier with someone who gets along with you well and takes you seriously. If you're not sure whether your current provider can take care of your skin condition, ask. Here are some examples of questions to ask your provider:

  • Do you take care of patients with this type of skin condition?
  • What information can you give me about my rash?
  • When do you refer patients with rashes to another provider?
  • Which provider would you refer me to?
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  1. American Academy of Dermatology. Why choose a board-certified dermatologist? Updated 2020.