Infectious Disease

Infectious Disease Specialist Career

Patients come to infectious disease specialists for a variety of reasons: an infection is proving difficult to diagnose, a high fever accompanies an infection, they are not responding to treatment, they plan to travel to a foreign country where risk of infection is greater, or other doctors simply cannot figure out what is causing their discomfort or symptoms. In order to help patients of many varieties, infectious disease specialists go through nearly a decade of training to serve their patients and the public and unravel the health mysteries that often elude their peers. These physicians are also trained in immunology, epidemiology, and infection control.

Job Description

Infectious disease specialist is a type of internal medicine doctor who is specifically qualified to diagnose and treat infectious diseases. Throughout undergraduate education, medical school, and then specialized training in the areas of internal medicine and infectious diseases, these health specialists are especially equipped to treat infections throughout the body, including bones, lungs, brain, heart, sinuses, the urinary tract and organs. They are trained to deal with a host of different types of infections, including those stemming from parasites, viruses, bacteria and fungi. Others specialize in specific infections related to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Education and Training

Infectious disease specialists often experience a decade’s worth of training before becoming certified. This often starts with a bachelor’s degree, though this is not technically required in order to apply to all medical schools. Applicants must complete the Medical College Admissions (MCAT) exam before they apply to medical school. After approximately four years of medical school, these specialists pursue an additional 5 – 6 years of training in the fields of internal medicine and infectious diseases. At that point, they are qualified to take an internal medicine certification examination issued by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM).

Costs Involved

The vast majority of physicians possess a bachelor’s degree (which costs, on average, $26,000 at a public American institution.) The pre-medical school Medical College Admissions (MCAT) exam costs $270. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, annual tuition at a public medical school averaged approximately $25,000 for state residents and $48,000 for non-residents. This increased at private schools. Following medical school, students must take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which includes several steps that can cost upwards of $2,500 collectively. The American Board of Internal Medicine’s general internal medicine certification costs $1,365.

Work Environment

Infectious disease specialists work primarily in hospitals, but others are employed in academic or research capacities. Many physicians practicing in health care facilities work long and irregular hours, including overnight shifts. Even when physicians are off duty or on call, they can be called in at a moment’s notice if a specific situation requires their particular expertise. Patients often come to them when previous health care tests and assessments have failed to produce explanations. Infectious disease specialists often work with patients’ primary care providers in order to, when necessary, arrange for hospital care, develop treatment plans, and coordinate follow-up protocols.

Scholarships and Grants

As with any career path in the medical and healthcare industries, there are multiple scholarships available for individuals who choose a career as infectious disease specialists. For instance, the IIDP—Institute for Infectious Diseases of Poverty—provides students who are seeking PhD degrees in this field with the opportunity to apply for one or more scholarships through their website. Federal grants and loans are also available based on each student’s financial need, and in some cases, students may defer interest payments until after their educations are completed.

Salary and Job Opportunities

Salary can vary in each geographical area due to factors such as cost of living, number of employers and the need for these professionals in specific metropolitan areas. The annual median wage for this position is estimated to be approximately $175,000, which is, on average, less than other types of medical specialties. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have figures for infectious disease specialists in general, but they do anticipate that physicians and surgeons more generally will increase job growth of 24 percent by 2020.

Career Outlook

Infectious disease specialists can work in many different settings, including medical offices, hospitals, medical service providers and others. Beyond patient care, there are also job opportunities as a medical scientist or a professor. Within the arena of health care, both of these job prospects are expected to grow in coming years, though the salary is lower than what physicians could earn in the field (an average of $99,000 for a medical scientist and $88,000 for a professor.) These internal medicine specialists typically earn less than other specialists (with other specialists earning well over $200,000).

A career as an infectious disease specialist requires years of education at the undergraduate level, in medical school, and in post-medical school practical training and this process often produces well over $100,000 in debt for medical students. However, infectious disease specialists say that the reward of solving medical mysteries outweighs any compensation discrepancies with other medical professionals and they report high job satisfaction.

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