Dermatology Physician Assistants

Are you an aspiring or current physician assistant (PA) with an interest in dermatology? While having a specialty certification is not required in order to practice in this area of the field, starting in 2022 you can register to earn a Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in dermatology to show that you have substantial experience in this specialization. If earning this credential is something you are interested in, you will need to make sure you meet all of the necessary requirements for certification, which can take years of preparation, including the equivalent of two full years of practice related to the specialty. This guide will address what you need to do to earn this credential and what it might do to help your career.

What is a Certificate of Added Qualifications?

When a PA holds a CAQ from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), it shows that they have gone above and beyond to demonstrate knowledge and experience in the specialty. The CAQ is an additional certification beyond the PA-C, which means that those who earn it still have a knowledge base in primary care. These credentials are not required for practicing a specific specialty, which benefits other professionals by preventing sudden changes to credentialing requirements in various settings. At the same time, the CAQ allows those who dedicate time to a specific part of the field to stand out.

How to Earn a Dermatology Certificate of Added Qualifications as a Physician Assistant (PA)

Looking to add a CAQ in dermatology to your resume? Here are some common steps to pursue a dermatology CAQ:

Step 1: Become a Certified Physician Assistant 

You cannot become specialized within the PA field if you do not become a PA first! You must be a PA who is licensed to practice in at least one state. Your licenses must be valid and they all must be unrestricted. If you are not yet a PA but want to become one, you can learn more about how to become a licensed PA.

Step 2: Earn Continuing Medical Education (CME) Credits

In order to sit for the specialty exam and earn a CAQ in dermatology, you must earn an appropriate amount of continuing education credits related to the specialty. Within six years of sitting for the specialty exam, you will need to earn 75 dermatology related credits (Category I), 25 of which need to be earned in the two years directly leading up to the test. These credits must include a course on dermoscopy that is worth at least five credits. These credits can also go towards general PA certification renewal.

You will need to use your best judgment to determine whether the CMEs you take are relevant to the dermatology specialty – there is a chance that your credits could be audited in order to determine that you have met the requirements.

Step 3: Earn Enough Experience Working in Dermatology as a PA

While you are earning CME credits, you will be working as a physician assistant and will need to make sure that a good amount of your work is in the area of dermatology. You will need to have practiced 4,000 hours relating to the specialty in the six years leading up to your attestation to the NCCPA. This is the equivalent of two full years of work. Make sure that you are able to produce proof of your experience in case you get audited during the application process.

You will want to make sure that you learn all of the specific things that you need to learn in order to become certified as you gain your experience. Eventually, you will need to submit an attestation from a qualifying superior or colleague stating that you have the knowledge, skills, and understanding needed to practice the dermatology specialty. Make sure you have experience with all of the following:

  • Local anesthesia administration.
  • Unna boot application
  • Pathology report interpretation
  • Bacterial, fungal, and viral cultures
  • Performing shave, punch, and excisional biopsies
  • Giving skin exams
  • Dermoscopy
  • Cryosurgery
  • Curettage
  • Electrodessication
  • I&D
  • Intramuscular and intralesional injections
  • Microscopy
  • Patch testing
  • Surgical excisions
  • Wood’s lamp evaluation
  • Understand how and when to use imaging studies
  • Understand chemical peels
  • Understand dermatologic procedure complications
  • Understand laser procedures
  • Mohs appropriate use criteria
  • Narrow band UV therapy
  • Techniques for suturing
  • Wound care principles

Check with the NCCPA to make sure you are best prepared to get all the relevant experience you need.

Step 4: Take the Dermatology Specialty Exam

When your non-exam requirements have been completed, you can sit for the specialty exam in dermatology. The exam is 120 multiple choice questions long. Tests are offered in the spring and fall at Pearson VUE test centers.

There is a $250 exam fee that you will need to pay.

Step 5: Submit Attestation that You Meet the Procedures and Patient Case Requirement

A physician, senior PA, or physician or PA post graduate program director will need to provide an attestation stating that you understand and have performed all procedure and patient requirements listed in step 3. This attestation needs to be submitted within 90 days of receiving your CAQ exam score.

Step 6: Start the CAQ Application Process

As soon as you are able to submit one of the components (CME credits, experience, procedure and patient case attestation, or exam), you can start the CAQ application process if you’d like. Or, you can wait to initiate this process until all requirements are completed. Once you start the process and pay the $100 fee, you have six years to finish the application/meet the rest of the requirements.

Why Earn a CAQ in Dermatology?

PAs with CAQ qualifications report a variety of benefits, according to survey information about the ​​CAQ from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA):

Salary Increase

A majority of PAs with a CAQ have or expect to get a pay increase, and a third got a cash bonus.

Career Advancement

Three quarters of PAs with a CAQ say they have found or expect to find a new job, and four in 10 have been promoted.

More Respect

About 75% of PAs with a CAQ report more respect from other healthcare professionals as a result of the certification. Two in three PAs with a CAQ report more respect from patients.

Broadened Responsibilities

About 60% of CAQs expect to take on more responsibility post certification.

Last Updated January 2022