An infectious disease doctor provides treatment to people with infectious diseases. In addition to working directly with patients, doctors who specialize in infectious disease may be involved in the response to disease outbreaks, the development of public health policies, the establishment of protocols to control infectious disease in hospital environments, and public outreach and education which is designed to reduce the incidence of infectious disease. This type of work can be very diverse, and there are many areas in which doctors who specialize in infectious disease can practice.
Someone who wants to become an infectious disease doctor must attend college and medical school and then qualify as an internal medicine or pediatrics specialist. With this training completed, the doctor can complete a fellowship in infectious disease to develop an infectious disease subspecialty. Many infectious disease doctors belong to professional organizations which promote high standards of patient care among their members. Such organizations offer opportunities to attend conferences, subscribe to trade journals, and participate in research related to infectious disease.
In terms of patient care, an infectious disease doctor can be called upon to treat a patient who appears to be experiencing health problems as a result of infection with an organism. This can include emergency treatment for patients with emergent infections along with diagnosis of patients who present challenging medical mysteries and long term care of patients who experience complications as a result of infection. For example, some types of bacterial infections can damage the gastrointestinal tract, and a patient with a history of such infections might require periodic checkups and other specialized care.
In response to disease outbreaks, an infectious disease doctor can be part of the team on the ground which handles patient care, attempts to determine the source of the outbreak, and works on containing it. This work can include identifying new organisms or learning more about existing organisms, and may also involve a great deal of work in the lab to test patient samples, link patients with each other, and determine which patients are not part of the outbreak.
These medical specialists are also involved in policymaking. They may be consulted by organizations and agencies which make policy in order to develop a more effective plan for reducing the spread of disease and they can also be involved in research which is intended to shape policy and treatment protocols. In this case, an infectious disease doctor may be an MD/PhD, with degrees in medicine and public health.