How to Become a Veterinary Dermatologist

Louise Barnes BVSc (Hons) GPCert(Derm) MRCVS

Are you a qualified veterinary surgeon looking for your next challenge? There are a huge number of career options open to vets, and trying to choose the right one can seem daunting. Skin and ear problems are some of the most common reasons for owners bringing their pets to the vet, so if you get a thrill from treating crusty cats, balding birds, or pruritic pups, perhaps a hugely rewarding career as a veterinary dermatologist beckon. In this article, we will discuss the various options available to vets wanting to gain further qualifications in dermatology, from those wishing to remain in general practice, right through to aspiring veterinary specialists.

If you are interested in learning more about available dermatology jobs then why not register with The Vet Service? We also have a wide variety of other veterinary jobs if you want to explore other options.

What do veterinary dermatologists do?

Veterinary dermatology is a medical specialty covering a broad range of conditions affecting not only the skin and hair coat of animals, but also the ears, claws, subcutaneous tissues, and mucous membranes of the mouth and anogenital regions. Dermatologists need an in-depth knowledge of diseases directly affecting the skin such as tumors, parasitic and allergic conditions, as well as more generalised disorders such as endocrine and autoimmune diseases.

Veterinarians with further qualifications in dermatology may work in general practice seeing a variety of patients, including more complex skin cases as second opinions for colleagues and other local practices. Recognised specialists usually work in referral centres and universities, seeing clinical cases, carrying out research, lecturing students and supervising residents.

What skills do I need to be a veterinary dermatologist?

You need good detective skills to be a dermatologist – a thorough, methodical approach to cases is essential. A lot of time is spent talking to clients, as often a detailed medical history can yield as much vital information as the patient‘s clinical examination. Good microscopy skills are needed, as virtually all cases require cytology and/or skin scrapes. Many diseases affect the skin, so as well as a deep understanding of specific dermatological conditions, broad medical knowledge is required.

What qualifications do I need to become a dermatologist?

This article is aimed at veterinary students and qualified vets, as the first requirement is a recognised veterinary degree! If you are an aspiring dermatologist but have yet to obtain a place at a veterinary college, check out our blogs on vet school interviews and the education required to become a vet.

Although you are likely to see many pets with skin disorders as a veterinarian in first opinion practice if you want to advance further as a dermatologist you need to obtain post-graduate qualifications.

Post Graduate Certificates

The exact options may vary depending on your geographical location, but UK veterinarians may choose to obtain a General Practitioner Certificate (GPCert), or an RCVS Advanced Practitioner Certificate in Dermatology. Although certificates are an official recognition of a vet’s particular knowledge and skills in their chosen field, it is important to realise that they do not make you a recognised specialist.

General Practitioner Certificate

The International School of Veterinary Postgraduate  Studies (ISVPS) GPCert(Derm) is a recognised higher education qualification demonstrating that vets have achieved a deeper and more thorough understanding of dermatology, which can be applied to treat more complicated cases in general practice. To achieve the qualification vets complete a modular course, as well as assessments such as case reports and a multiple choice examination. It is possible to carry out further assessments to obtain a Postgraduate Certificate with Harper Adams University and then apply to the RCVS for Advanced Practitioner Status.

RCVS CertAVP(Derm)

RCVS practicing members with at least one year of experience in practice can enroll on the RCVS Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice (CertAVP). Modules towards the qualification can be completed over several years, meaning it is manageable alongside working in practice. Choosing specific dermatology modules and passing a synoptic examination leads to the CertAVP (Dermatology). CertAVP holders usually work in first opinion practice, but can accept referrals from other veterinarians. Although much of the equipment needed by dermatologists is readily available in general practice, more expensive equipment such as CT scanners and video otoscopes (which may be required for complex ear cases) may not be accessible.

Diploma/Board Certified

The title of ‘specialist dermatologist’ is reserved only for those veterinarians that have carried out specific training, satisfied particular criteria, and passed their board exams with an organisation such as the European College of Veterinary Dermatology (ECVD) or the American College of Veterinary Dermatology (ACVD). A full list of recognised qualifications is available on the World Association for Veterinary Dermatology website.

The ECVD requires veterinarians to have completed an approved three-year residency program, carried out an original research program, published original work in a scientific journal, and completed their vigorous certification examinations. To be accepted onto an ECVD-approved residency program veterinarians need to have either completed a one-year rotating internship or had two years of experience in general practice. Residencies provide a minimum of three years of speciality training including seeing clinical cases, attending courses and congresses, carrying out research and lecturing. For veterinarians where a formalised residency is not possible, there is an option for an alternative route residency with the ECVD, where training is still overseen by a dermatology diploma holder, but on a part-time basis.

Once the specialist status is achieved veterinarians are regularly re-evaluated to ensure that their professional activity, continuing personal development, and participation in research are still at the required level.


Many pets suffer from uncomfortable and often debilitating skin diseases; helping to improve their quality of life by becoming a veterinary dermatologist can be a hugely rewarding career. Dermatology suits veterinarians who enjoy contact with pet owners, and have a methodical approach to cases. Completing a certificate such as the RCVS CertAVP(Derm), which is achievable whilst working in practice, demonstrates knowledge and experience in dermatology and enables the veterinarian to manage complex cases and second opinions. Becoming a specialist dermatologist takes many years of study and dedication to obtain and maintain diplomat status.

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