Seeing the Right Skin Specialist
In the NHS the term dermatologist, or consultant dermatologist, refers to medically qualified doctors who have obtained a higher qualification in general medicine. Usually a member of the Royal College of Physicians or subsequently a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, they have then gone on to train specifically in dermatology. After four or five years full-time training in a registered and supervised NHS dermatology post, a doctor can be listed by the General Medical Council (GMC) as a specialist in dermatology. Almost all consultant dermatologists have appointments at NHS hospitals and they should not be appointed to an NHS hospital without being an accredited specialist on the GMC register. To confirm if a doctor is an accredited specialist on the GMC register, you can search for their record using their name or GMC reference number. If you’re not sure how to spell a doctor’s name, you can use the ‘sounds like’ filter, which will list doctors whose names sound similar. This register is available online via the GMC website here. Just because someone is calling themselves a skin specialist, dermatological expert, or some variant of that, does not mean they are appropriately qualified, so it is always best to check with the GMC.
Medical Professionals You Might Encounter in Dermatology
In addition to Consultant Dermatologists, there are a number of other types of medical professionals you might see in a dermatology setting. These include dermatological nurses, junior doctors, such as foundation doctors and dermatology trainees, as well as locums, GPs, and SAS doctors.
Dermatological nursing is a highly specialised area of practice with nurses providing care and treatment for a growing number of patients with dermatological conditions. There are different grades of nursing staff, and in many hospitals, nurses deliver clinics for specific diseases, such as leg ulcer clinics, phototherapy clinics, patch test clinics, and more. Senior clinical nurses in dermatology such as nurse consultants, advanced nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists will have received training in extended skills so they can safely see and treat patients independently in clinics. These skills may include skin cancer screening, prescribing medicines, undertaking laser or skin surgery.
Foundation doctors (sometimes abbreviated to FY1 and FY2) are recently qualified medical professionals undergoing the foundation programme, a two-year, general postgraduate training programme between medical school and specialist training. During their training these doctors will have the opportunity to gain experience in a range of specialist environments, including dermatology.
Specialist registrars (SpR) are doctors undergoing specialist training with the aim of eventually becoming consultants in their chosen field, for example, dermatology. This training typically takes around four to five years. If you see the abbreviation SpR followed by a number, this number typically indicates how many years into their specialist training this registrar is.
The term SAS doctors refers to Staff Grade, Associate Specialist and Specialty Doctors. These are senior doctors who have a minimum of four years postgraduate experience and two years in their specialty of choice, but have decided not to follow the training path to become a consultant. These doctors are common in all medical specialties, and are vital to the running of the NHS.
GP with an extended role (GPwER)
GPs with an extended role (also known by the acronym GPwER), are GPs who have undergone further training in a specialist area such as dermatology. GPwERs will typically take up roles in addition to their GP work, often in a specialist setting. These doctors were previously known as GPs with a special interest (GPSIs).
Locums are fully qualified medical doctors who temporarily fill positions in the NHS, this might be to cover for maternity leave, illness, or to manage staffing shortages. All doctors, other than those in foundation year one, can act as locums, which means that your locum may not be a consultant. If you are seeing a locum doctor it is perfectly acceptable to ask what level of training they have.