Immunology is the branch of medicine that deals with disease immunity, and immunologists are research scientists or practicing specialists who study, analyze and/or treat disease processes that involve the immune system. The immune system is the system within an organism that is responsible for protecting the organism from infection by foreign matter. Immunologists particularly are interested in diseases that affect natural immunity. These include such diseases as allergies, sinus inflations, pneumonia and abscesses that occur repeatedly even with treatment.
One of the most important aspects of immunology is research. Because many immunologists research and analyze the immune system, new findings and treatments can be discovered for persistent illnesses. Immunologists in this branch of immunology work in laboratories that enable them to study and test interactions of chemicals, cells and genes in the body to better understand what is necessary for an immune system to function properly.
A career in scientific research immunology requires a Ph.D.
Physicians and Pediatricians
This is the more commonly known branch of immunology. Pediatric immunologists, also known as pediatric allergists, find and treat problems associated with allergies and immune system malfunctions. Pediatric immunologists specialize in children ranging from infants to teenagers. They typically work in children’s hospitals, community hospitals, private offices and university medical centers.
Physicians and pediatricians specializing in immunology are required to have a medical degree and several more years of training, both in residency and in specialized immunology/allergy programs.
College Teaching and Research
Many immunologists find their place teaching as opposed to practicing. While this branch of immunology still provides a strong participation in research, it requires a personality suited to instructing as well as guiding.
Ph.D.s and M.D.s typically are necessary for research done independently, but in order to secure a position as a member of a faculty or administration, at least one always is required.
For all branches of immunology, a strong knowledge of the fields of biology, chemistry and mathematics is necessary. It also is helpful to have an understanding of computers, electronics, clerical knowledge, management skills, deductive reasoning and communication.
Jobs in immunology require an advanced degree — specifically a Ph.D. or an M.D. Scientific research immunologists are required to have a Ph.D., while physicians and pediatricians are required to have an M.D. as well as at least three years of primary care residence training and two to three more years of specialty training and study in an immunology program, followed by certification.
To be an immunologist, one must have, in addition to a Ph.D. or an M.D., at least two to three years of training in an accredited program and must pass an examination given by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. In most cases, knowledge of the field of immunization is not enough to be a successful immunologist; it is expected that candidates for this profession will be skilled in other areas, including understanding the functioning of the body as it relates to issues beyond immunization, such as medications, therapies, test materials and surgical procedures.
Because there are different branches in the field of immunology, an average salary is difficult to determine. It is typical for immunologists’ salaries to range from $50,000 to more than $200,000 per year, depending on specialty, where they work and the area of the country in which they live. For example, the median salaries in 2006 for immunologists in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., were $126,000 and $121,000 per year, respectively, while the median salaries for immunologists in Los Angeles and Sacramento, Calif., were $141,000 and $152,000, respectively.
In most cases, immunologists working in hospitals and for private companies have higher salaries, especially those with an M.D. as opposed to a Ph.D. In general, immunologists working in the private sector or for hospitals have salaries of more than $100,000 per year.