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Developing a Dermatology Foundation for NPs and PAs

When Debra Shelby, DNP, FNP-BC, DNC, launched her career as a nurse practitioner, little to no training was available for NPs who wanted to practice dermatology. Those with an interest learned on the job or by reading journals, attending conferences and asking questions. "If someone took the time to educate you, you were lucky," she recalled.

Her desire to help develop a formal NP residency program in dermatology took root early in her education. While she pursued her bachelor's degree, she was mesmerized by the theorists. Even before she became an NP, she knew she wanted to have an impact on advanced practice. She began practicing dermatology upon graduating as a family nurse practitioner in 2000.

In 2006, she was accepted into the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa. As her doctoral project, Shelby developed the first doctor of nursing practice residency in dermatology. After graduating from the DNP program, she determined that the needs of NPs in dermatology were not being adequately met, so she founded the National Academy of Dermatology Nurse Practitioners in 2010.

Today, Shelby is the affiliate director of the DNP Dermatology Residency Program at USF. She is a guest speaker and a dermatology clinical preceptor for doctoral and master's NP students. In addition, Shelby owns Florida Specialty Dermatology Care, LLC, a practice in which she collaborates with dermatologists to train NPs to provide dermatologic care to older adults in extended living facilities. She also practices at Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in Tampa. And Shelby continues to pursue her interest in research as a PhD candidate at USF. She anticipates completing this degree later this summer.

Depth of Knowledge

Throughout her career, Shelby has shared her expertise and passion by presenting at national conferences, by developing educational programs, by presenting webinars, and by writing articles. She has been honored numerous times, from awards for her articles to being named Outstanding USF Alumnus. And she was awarded the American Cancer Society Nurse Scientist Scholarship Grant for her clinical and research work in skin cancer.

In September 2012, Singapore's Prime Ministry of Health invited Shelby to visit the National Skin Centre in that country. She presented multiple lectures and is now helping that country's nurses develop education and advanced practice in dermatology. Her goal is to embrace and educate international colleagues in the mission of NADNP.

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With the litany of accomplishments in her life growing by the day, it should be difficult for Shelby to choose what she is most proud of. But one moment in her professional career sticks out. On the first day of the NADNP's inaugural conference in 2012, which Shelby and a handful of colleagues organized on their own, without a management company, she found herself with tears in her eyes. The conference was a sold-out success, with attendees from every state, Canada and New Zealand.

The NADNP welcomes all NPs interested in improving patient care by promoting evidence-based dermatology practice standards, clinical research, conferences and expanded dermatology communication networks. And after receiving numerous inquiries from physician assistants, the NADNP will be offering PA colleagues continuing education hours at its 2013 conference in Clearwater Beach, Fla., this month.

"It's fantastic. We will embrace everybody who wants to learn dermatology," Shelby said. She believes expanding to PAs will help standardize the organization's mission. "Primary care is so important; it's our obligation to train anyone. Improving patient outcomes is what it's all about."

A Passion for Excellence

Shelby's mission is to educate all NPs seeking to learn dermatology, regardless of specialty or level of experience. "Twenty percent or more of visits in primary care are dermatology related," she said.

She teaches her residents the importance of understanding diagnostic techniques, rather than relying on a wait-and-see approach. "We always want to be cost conscious - using the right diagnostic tools instead of wasting time or prescribing ineffective treatments," she said. "We have to look at getting it right the first time so we're not missing something."

Resources for Dermatology Education & Training

• National Academy of Dermatology Nurse Practitioners:

• Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants:

• Dermatology Nurses' Association:

Kerri Hatt is on staff at ADVANCE. Reach her at

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I am a recent FNP grad (August 2013). I have been practicing in a family practice clinic since November 2013. Although I enjoy what I do, my passion has always been dermatology, procedures, and wound care. I am looking to see how to go about getting certified/trained in dermatology so I may begin to practice in this field? At some point I may consider the Doctorate of Nursing in Dermatology, but financially I cannot do this right now and I need to wait until my kids are grown as I have taken so much time from them with my schooling already. Any advice would be appreciated.
Naomi Badger, FNP Newport, VT

Naomi  Badger,  FNP,  Family PracticeJuly 22, 2014
Newport, VT

I am a women's health NP and obtained this 14 years ago through a master's certificate program. Then I obtained my MSN degree. What is the best route for me to get a certification in dermatology care?

Bertha Camacho,  Nurse Practitioner,  FQHCJune 09, 2014
Saipan, HI


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