Dermatology is one of the more specialized areas of nurse practitioner work. A dermatology nurse practitioner specializes in treating all types of disease and medical issues that manifest on the surface of the skin. These conditions can vary from acne to skin cancer and everything in between. Many nurse practitioners find this kind of specialization rewarding, both professionally and economically.
If you think you may want to pursue work as a dermatology nurse practitioner (DNP, not to be confused with Doctor of Nursing Practice), read on to learn what you can expect.
The types of patients that an average dermatology nurse practitioner would see can vary greatly and depends on the type of clinic where the nurse practitioner works. The three most common types of dermatology sub-specializations are cosmetic, surgical, and pediatric. A cosmetic DNP will generally work with adults while a pediatric DNP, as you might expect, works with children under 18. A surgical dermatology nurse practitioner could end up working with patients of all ages, but in a surgical setting, performing or assisting with cancer removal and the like. There are also nurse practitioners who will work in a general dermatology clinic without a sub-specialization; these DNP's will work with patients across their lifespan.
The majority of dermatology nurse practitioners work at a dermatology clinic. Unlike some other specialties, it would be very rare to find a dermatology nurse practitioner in an emergency room or other high volume, high stress position. Indeed, this may be why many dermatology nurse practitioners pursue such a career. The nature of the work in this profession is such that NPs can have a more flexible, less demanding schedule while still earning a comfortable income and helping patients in need.
A dermatology nurse practitioner should be prepared to do many assessments on a regular basis. DNP's often spend much of their day in consultation with patients, diagnosing and treating skin issues as well as performing regular dermatological check ups. Some minor procedures, such as mole removals, skin peels, or acne treatments are also commonplace for dermatology nurse practitioners. Even a surgical DNP will not necessarily spend each day in surgery, and will need to be comfortable assessing and treating patients in an acute care setting.
Unlike nurse practitioners who work in emergency rooms and hospitals, the physical demands required of a dermatology nurse practitioner are minor. Generally dermatology patients are able to care for themselves (unless there is a co-existing condition) and will not need to be lifted, carried, or assisted with basic needs. Surgery can be more demanding, so surgical dermatology nurse practitioners should be prepared for the rigors of that particular sub-specialty.
Many nurse practitioners deal with significant tragedies on a regular basis. While dermatology nurse practitioner will likely encounter patients with skin cancer, when treated at an early stage, even the most aggressive forms of skin cancer (e.g., melanoma) can be cured completely, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). This means that the emotional demands for a dermatology nurse practitioner are overall less significant that those of a critical care nurse practitioner, for instance, or a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner. Day-to-day, DNP's deal with mostly healthy people and are able to offer healing treatments on a regular basis.
Training as a dermatology nurse practitioner, for most who want to pursue the specialty, involves professional dedication and finding a clinic that is will to work with and train you. This is because there is only one dermatology nurse practitioner fellowship in the United States, and only one school that offers specific training in the specialty. While nurses that complete these programs are certainly well-trained, neither is necessary to pursue a career as a dermatology nurse practitioner. Rather, the majority of DNP's learn on-the-job from other nurses and medical professionals. Most important, then, is for prospective DNP's to secure a job at a reputable dermatology clinic that is will to train them.
The Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts offers the country's only nurse practitioner fellowship in dermatology. The fellowship is a two-year program that allows nurse practitioners to learn dermatology through a didactic and clinical curriculum. The program is affiliated with the Harvard Medical School Dermatology Residency program, which gives enrolled nurses access to many resources, including weekly Grand Rounds. Fellows who are accepted to the program are hired as full time employees at the hospital and may work in Burlington, Lexington, or Peabody, Massachusetts.
Due to the specialized nature of the work, it can be helpful to join professional organizations of like minded nurses. The Dermatology Nurses' Association (DNA) has existed for more than three decades and provides nurses with a variety of resources including their own publication and an annual convention.
The National Academy of Dermatology Nurse Practitioners (NADNP) is much younger, but is geared only towards NPs. NADNP is "dedicated to setting the standards in dermatology practice, education. research, and professional development."
More information about both organizations and the services they offer aspiring dermatology nurse practitioners is available on their respective websites.