Infectious Disease Specialist Careers: Salary & Job Description

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An infectious disease specialist earns a median salary of about $201,000. Is it worth the debt and extensive training? See real job descriptions and get the truth about job prospects and salary info to decide if becoming an infectious disease specialist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as an Infectious Disease Specialist

These specialists are internal medicine physicians who diagnose and treat infectious diseases. Find out about the pros and cons of this career to find out if being an ID specialist might be a specialty you'd enjoy.

Pros
Good salary ($201,000 approximate median wage)****
Variety of career paths to choose within the specialty**
Provides opportunity for lifelong learning in an evolving field**
Some ID specialists have worldwide business travel opportunities**

Cons
Education and training can take between 12-18 years to complete*****
Average student debt for medical school was estimated at about $141,000 in 2009***
Requires continuing education to maintain credentials**
ID specialists may work under stress in rapid-response situations during outbreak events**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), ***U.S. News and World Report, ****Salary.com, *****American Board of Medical Specialties.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

An ID specialist is an internal medicine doctor, according to the American Board of Medical Specialties. While some physicians may focus on a specific area or structure of the human anatomy, an ID specialist must have an extensive understanding of the entire anatomy and system functions. In a private-sector practice, an ID specialist will often work with an internist or a general practitioner to diagnose and treat a mysterious infection. You might order specialized tests, such as a blood serum analysis, to diagnose reoccurring infections. You could also prescribe antibiotics or arrange for vaccinations.

In government arenas, you might work with epidemiologists on rapid-response teams to end a pandemic outbreak. An ID specialist might also be consulted about risks involved in travel to potentially hazardous areas.

Salary and Job Outlook

As of August 2015, Salary.com reported that the annual median wage for infectious disease specialists was about $201,000. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't have figures for ID specialists, they predicted that between 2012 and 2022, physicians and surgeons in general could experience an employment increase of 18%.

Professional Requirements

Education, Licensure and Training

ID specialists must first attend medical school and then pursue specialization in this field. Most medical schools require a student to hold a bachelor's degree in a major that included studies in chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics. Medical school generally lasts four years and students earn doctoral degrees, after which an ID specialist undergoes on-the-job training through a residency program in internal medicine that can last between 3-7 years. Following the residency, the ID specialist will need to obtain a license to practice medicine and acquire board certification in internal medicine. This is followed by another 1-3 years in a fellowship program for infectious disease specialty training and further certification in that subspecialty.

Qualifications

ID specialists are solvers of mysteries. They should be inquisitive, patient and good at examining both the minutia and broader perspectives when working on a problem. The ability to work with other team members is also very important because even if the ID specialist is working as a private consultant, he or she should be able to discuss the details of a patient's illness and treatment plan with the patient's primary care physician.

What Employers Are Looking For

Employers for these specialized positions seek applicants who have acquired appropriate training and have current licensing and certification. Job postings from April 2012 also note an interest in research, clinical experience and strong communication skills.

  • A central California facility is seeking an infectious disease specialist who has experience working as an HIV infectious disease provider.
  • A national health organization in Maryland is seeking ID investigative physicians with a background in HIV and hepatitis C to work with patients and conduct research.
  • A teaching hospital in Utah wants an ID physician with instructor experience for a position that requires teaching, clinical work and research.

How to Stand Out in the Field

The ID field offers a wide variety of opportunities, and you can make yourself more appealing to employers before you even begin your search. Many prospective employers look for ID specialists with specialized experience, such as teaching experience or experience working with pediatric ID, hepatitis or HIV. You can begin by focusing your education and training in the direction you wish to work.

Specialty training options can be found through places like the IDSA. For example, if you wish to pursue ID mysteries from a distant, tactical perspective, you can study the epidemiology aspect of this career. If you're more interested in the clinical aspects, you can further focus your work towards a particular pathogen that may make you more sought after for your expertise.

Alternative Career Paths

If this area of work interests you, but you aren't convinced you have the wherewithal or patience to last through the education and training, there are related areas that might interest you.

Medical Scientist

Although medical scientists may be required to have doctoral degrees in their particular field of research, they don't have the extra residency, fellowship and licensing requirements if they focus specifically on research as opposed to working with patients. Their work consists primarily of clinical trials and research. The BLS predicted that medical scientists could see an increase of 36% in job opportunities between 2010 and 2020. As of May 2011, the BLS noted that medical scientists reported earning an annual mean wage of around $88,000.

College Professor

As a college professor, you can also bypass the extra years of training and certification, but you'll still need to earn a doctoral degree. The BLS predicted a 17% increase in job opportunities for college professors in general for the 2010-2020 decade. A BLS report for May 2011 noted that college professors who focused on health specialties earned an annual mean wage of approximately $99,000.

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