For Residents

Studying in Dermatology Residency

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Studying during dermatology residency may be overwhelming due to the large amount of material and numerous resources available. This article provides an overview of available resources and a guide on tailoring one’s approach to studying throughout residency.

Resident Pearls

  • Independent study is a large component of dermatology residency.
  • Consistent habits and a tailored approach will support optimal learning for each dermatology resident.
  • The beginning of residency is a good time to explore a variety of resources to see what works best. Toward the end of residency, as studying becomes more targeted, residents may benefit from sticking to the resources with which they are most comfortable.



Dermatology residency can feel like drinking from a firehose, in which one is bombarded with so much information that it is impossible to retain any content. This article provides an overview of available resources and a guide on how to tailor studying throughout one’s training.

Prior to Residency

There are several resources that provide an introduction to dermatology and are appropriate for all medical students, regardless of intended specialty. The American Academy of Dermatology offers a free basic dermatology curriculum (, with a choice of a 2- or 4-week course consisting of modules such as skin examination, basic science of the skin, dermatologic therapies, and specific dermatologic conditions. VisualDx offers LearnDerm (, which includes a 5-part tutorial and quiz focused on the skin examination, morphology, and lesion distribution. Lookingbill and Marks’ Principles of Dermatology1 is a book at an appropriate level for a medical student to learn about the fundamentals of dermatology. These resources may be helpful for residents to review immediately before starting dermatology residency (toward the end of intern year for most).

First Year

During the beginning of dermatology residency (postgraduate year [PGY] 2 for most), the fire hose of information feels most daunting. During this time, studying should focus on engendering a broad overview of dermatology. Most residencies maintain a textbook reading schedule, which provides a framework from which residents may structure their studying. Selection of a textbook tends to be program dependent. Even if the details of reading the textbook do not stick when reading it the first time, benefits include becoming familiar with what information one is expected to learn as a dermatologist and developing a strong foundation upon which one may continue to build. Based on my informal discussions with current residents, some reported that reading the textbook did not work well for them, citing too much minutiae in the textbooks and/or a preference for a more active learning approach. These residents instead focused on reading a review book for a broad overview, accompanied by a textbook or VisualDx when a more detailed reference is necessary. Table 1 provides a list of textbooks and mobile applications (apps) that residents may find helpful.

First-year residents may begin their efforts in synthesizing this new knowledge base toward the end of the year in preparation for the BASIC examination. The American Board of Dermatology provides a content outline as well as sample questions on their website (, which may be used to guide more focused studying efforts during the weeks leading up to the examination.

Second Year

For second-year residents (PGY-3 for most) studying should focus on deepening and consolidating the broad foundation that was established during their first year. For many, this pursuit involves rereading the textbook chapters alongside more active learning measures, such as taking notes and quizzing oneself using flashcard apps and question banks (Table 2). Others may benefit from listening to podcasts (Table 3) or other sources utilizing audiovisual content, including attending conferences and other lectures virtually, which is becoming increasingly available in the setting of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic (Table 4). Because there are so many resources available to support these efforts, residents should be encouraged to try out a variety to determine what works best.


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