Immunologist: Job and Salary Facts

Learn how earning a degree in immunology can allow you to conduct immunological research at universities, government agencies and pharmaceutical companies. Continue reading to find out more about career options and salary earnings for immunologists. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is an Immunologist?

An immunologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic and immunologic conditions. They can offer services for patients with a primary or secondary immune condition. For instance, they may diagnose and treat primary immune deficiency conditions, such as genetically determined antibody deficiencies or phagocytic system disorders. In addition, they can treat secondary immunological conditions like autoimmune diseases and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. For each patient, the immunologist conducts diagnostic tests and develops a feasible treatment strategy, which may include immunoglobulin therapy. In addition to direct patient care, some immunologists also conduct laboratory or clinical research in immunology.

Take a look at the following table for more information about becoming an immunologist:

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (MD)
Educational Field of Study Internal Medicine (for residency), Allergy and Immunology (for fellowship)
Key Responsibilities Diagnose immunological conditions; develop treatment strategies; conduct research in immunology (optional)
Licensure Requirements Licensure required to practice
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15% (for physicians and surgeons, all other)*
Mean Salary (2015) $197,700 (for physicians and surgeons, all other)*

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need for a Career as an Immunologist?

Becoming an immunologist requires extensive education, leading to a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree and certification from the American Board of Allergy and Immunology (ABAI). You must begin by earning a bachelor's degree. Although you can choose to major in any subject, you must meet pre-medical requirements by taking classes in biology, chemistry, physics, math and English. After graduating, you can apply to medical school. It takes four years to earn an MD; the training includes a combination of lecture coursework, laboratory training and hands-on practice in clinical settings. During the rotation portion of an MD program, you may be able to do a rotation in an immunology-related setting.

After completing a medical degree, you need to enroll in a residency program. Most doctors who plan on specializing in immunology usually choose an internal medicine residency. However, if you want to focus your career on treating infants, children and adolescents, you could start by completing a residency in pediatrics. Both of these residency programs last for three years. After that, you need to complete a two-year allergy and immunology fellowship in order to further specialize your area of expertise. Before you can begin practicing, you must pass the board certification exam offered by the ABAI.

If you would like to conduct research in immunology in addition to practicing medicine, you could enroll in an M.D./Ph.D. program. Students in M.D./Ph.D. programs are required to complete all clinical and course requirements for medical school, in addition to coursework and dissertation research required by the graduate program in immunology.

What Would My Job Duties Be?

As a practicing immunologist, you would diagnose and treat patients with immunological conditions. In an initial visit, you would meet with the patient to discuss medical history and current symptoms and conduct a physical examination. You might order specific tests, such as blood tests, to identify particular primary or secondary immunological disorders or diseases. Based on the results, you would develop and implement a treatment plan that meets the patient's needs. If you decide to do research in addition to practicing, you would spend time designing and conducting immunological experiments in a laboratory or clinical research setting.

What Salary Could I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2015, physicians who specialize in a particular subfield, including immunologists, earned a mean annual wage of $197,700. Those who worked in physician's offices earned an average of $228,830. Those who worked in colleges and universities earned an average of only $99,450.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As a doctor, instead of subspecializing in immunology, you could work as a general internist. In this position, you would diagnose and treat patients with conditions involving any internal body system. In addition to immunological disorders, you could also treat patients with gastrointestinal problems, endocrinology disorders or hematological conditions. For this, you would need to complete an MD program and an internal medicine residency and pass the board certification exam offered by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Alternatively, you could choose an entirely different specialization within the field of medicine, such as a career as a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists provide medical services for patients with psychological conditions. They need to earn an MD degree, complete a four-year psychiatry residency and pass the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology certification exam.

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