An immunologist is a medical specialist who works with the immune system, the system in the body responsible for protecting it from infection and disease. The branch of medical science that this individual works in is known as immunology. The field requires an understanding of a variety of scientific fields, chief among them biology and chemistry.
A Ph.D. or M.D. is required to become an immunologist, with the specific degree required depending on the area of work. In the US, the American Board of Allergy and Immunology certifies these professionals.
When someone talks about an immunologist, he is usually thinking of the specialist who works in hospitals and medical offices, treating patients. This type of doctor holds a medical degree as either a general practice physician or pediatrician, but has specialized training in immunology. This medical professional will typically treat patients with autoimmune disorders or complicated allergies.
Allergic reactions of all types fall under this specialty. Patients may experience respiratory symptoms, gastrointestinal discomfort, or skin rashes. There are allergies for everything from drugs and food to environmental factors, such as pollen or even the sun.
Not all immunologists treat patients directly, and some focus on scientific research. These professionals direct their attention toward finding new treatments for various disorders of the immune system. They also perform continuing research to better understand this part of the body. A scientific researcher will work primarily within a laboratory setting.
Some immunology professionals may also choose to split their work between hands-on practice and research. They might spend part of their time in a laboratory performing research and put that research into practice by treating patients. Such individuals would likely specialize in a very specific area rather than working with all types of immunological disorders.
Scientific researchers must have an in-depth understanding of their area of study. A medical degree is not required for those who do not work directly with patients, but they are required to have a Ph.D. in their field.
A third option for immunologists is a career in education. As a college instructor, this person can educate the next generation of scientific researchers and immunological specialists. Those who are interested in teaching should have strong communication skills and the ability to share their knowledge clearly and effectively with others. This job requires either a Ph.D. or an M.D.