The human immune system is the body’s natural defense system; a grouping of cells, tissues and organs that work together to protect the body from infection. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases states that there are more than 200 different forms of primary immune deficiency diseases (PIDD), which affect more than 500,000 people in the US alone. The NIH estimates that approximately 23.5 million Americans suffer with one or more autoimmune disorders (conditions that result in the immune system attacking healthy cells in the body). When an individual is suspected of having an immune system disorder or issue of some sort, he or she can seek help in the form of a professional trained in all aspects of the immune system, such as an immunologist. As increases in immune-system disorders and health conditions increases, so too will the need for qualified professionals to diagnose and treat those disorders.
What is an Immunologist?
An immunologist is a doctor who is an expert in the disorders and problems surrounding the human immune system; one of the most important players when it comes to maintaining good health and quality of life. They have studied all aspects of the immune system and its physiological functioning in both healthy and diseased circumstances. These professionals know how to identify immune-related problems in individuals and work to develop specific treatment plans with the goal of improving health and the quality of life for their patients.
The job duties of an immunologist can be numerous, depending upon how that professional chooses to use his or her knowledge. However, some of the things an immunologist is trained to do can include:
Nobel Prize winner and virologist Frank Macfarlane Burnet called immunology a science with great potentialities both for practical use in medicine and a better understanding of living process. Although many immunologists use their education and skill to treat patients, many others use it for academic purposes and research in an attempt to better the quality of treatment or seek cures for immune-related conditions.
A doctorate degree is required for immunologists to enter the field.
Step by Step Educational Path of an Immunologist
Approximately 691,400 physicians and surgeons (including immunologists) held jobs in the US in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While private practice is a very common path for immunologists who wish to treat patients suffering from immune-related conditions and diseases, many others hold positions in a variety of settings. Immunologists may work in hospitals with groups of other physicians, or in academic settings where they research or teach aspiring physicians.
In hospital settings, immunologists may consult for other physicians or combine their knowledge with the knowledge of various medical professionals in an attempt to best treat patients. In academic settings, immunologists may research broad subjects that fall within the umbrella of immunology, or may take part in medicinal studies designed to develop better drugs to treat immunological disorders.
Employers seeking immunologist candidates typically look for the following qualities:
In order to increase the chances of being hired, individuals should consider the following:
Biochemists and biophysicists specializing in immunology earned an average of $81,480 as of May 2012, while medical scientists earned an annual salary of $76,980 on average according to the BLS. The projected growth rate for these specialists is 19% through the year 2022, which translates into an additional 5,400 jobs becoming available.
Starting a Private Practice
Establishing a private practice is often the goal of immunologists as they are obtaining their education. With increasing opportunities to work independently within the field of immunology – due to increasing awareness of immune-related conditions and newly developed treatment methods as well as an aging population suffering from allergies and immune related conditions – private practice is certainly an option for every new immunologist.
As stated above, each state in the US as well as the District of Columbia requires licensing of immunologists before they are legally able to practice. Immunologists should contact their state licensure board to determine which requirements they must meet in order to hold a private practice within the state.
Immunologists must consider the pros of starting a private practice, which include the ability to serve and treat patients in a facility that operates under their specific preferences and guidelines. The demand for private immunologist practices will continue to grow, as the number of individuals suffering from immunological diseases grows, resulting from genetic and environmental factors. Those specialists in a private practice have more job flexibility, an environment that is often less stressful, and the ability to better connect with the patients they see.
There are also important cons to consider when looking at private practice as an option. Immunologists will require start-up funds to establish their practice and must learn business practices not taught in medical school. In addition to the diagnosis and treatment of patients, the private practice will require administration work, medical billing, record-keeping, patient interaction (scheduling appointments, etc.) and more. Hiring and managing a group of professionals to run the practice is also essential. Immunologists in a private practice always run the risk of losing money in their venture and not experiencing success.
In order to increase their chances of being successful, immunologist considering a private practice should take business-related or administration-related courses or workshops which will provide essential information and resources to a new business owner. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology provides in-depth resources to immunologists who want to start a private practice, including workshops, resources for coding and medical billing, and their Practice Matters newsletter which addresses issues and problems within a private practice and how to overcome them.
In conclusion, becoming an immunologist is entering a field where professionals’ services are highly-sought after by employers as well as patients. These specialists, for the most part, enjoy solid job security and stability, economic stability and satisfaction and fulfillment.