Infectious Disease Doctor: The Job and The Requirements

Employment Training

<P>An infectious disease doctor usually begins his/her career early, as an internist completing training in infectious disease diagnosis, prevention and treatment. An infectious disease is passed from one person to another, as opposed to environmental contact or genetic predisposition.  The most common of all infectious diseases is influenza, the flu; second in frequency of occurrence is the HIV/AIDS virus.  </P> <P>The infectious disease doctor is therefore an individual with a strong and vibrant physical constitution, resistant to diseases himself or herself, and able to work with patients in a hospital or clinic as opposed to outpatient visits.  They identify, diagnose and manage individuals with infectious disease, and assist in tracking and reporting any communicable diseases that threaten the safety and health of the general public.  </P> <P>To become an infectious disease specialist, one must first be an internal medicine specialist in interning.  In other words, the IDS (infectious disease specialist) must first be a trained medical doctor who operates as a primary care physician, usually seeing patients in an office, treatment facility or hospital.  One trains in this specialization early in medical preparation, as part of the 4000 hours of internist facility-centered work needed to complete any medical degree. </P> <P>Said training for this rigorous and demanding position can take up to 18 years to complete, although the benefits, for many, are worth the struggle.   The salary for the specialist is usually excellent (the nationwide average is $193K annually), and within the career there are a variety of specialty career paths to choose from.  Some IDS stay with only one disease, and work exclusively with patients with that affliction—there are numerous HIV/AIDS specialists whose career work centers only on that disorder.  </P> <P>This obviously means that a career as an IDS is an lifelong opportunity for extensive study in that one particular field or disease of one’s specialization; in some cases, this assures the IDS an excellent job placement with government or CDC facilities that allows him/her expense accounts, research teams to work with and worldwide travel opportunities for his study and treatment specialties. </P> <P>This leads directly into the disadvantages of the work, however; it is continuous, requiring continuing education and training to maintain the IDS credential, and is guaranteed, in the case of viral or bacteriological outbreaks, to create stressful and rapid-response situations in the IDS’ life.  An outbreak event, in fact, is the “make-or-break” moment for many IDS, and some do indeed break down under the stresses the work imposes.  </P> <P>In addition to the 12 to 18 year time investment in training, medical school for the IDS does not come cheap—it averages $141K per student, based on 2009 statistics.  And the United States is seeing record numbers of students, both medical and other-educational, defaulting on student loans for lack of work.  </P> <P>What must the IDS know and do?  They need a far more extensive understanding of the human anatomy and its interactions than any other kind of specialist, since communicable diseases affect entire organisms rather than their parts.   They must often work with general practitioners in diagnosing and treating outbreaks; they must work with epidemiologists in emergency situations as part of a rapid-response team.  </P> <P>In short, the IDS must want to solve mysteries. They should be patient, curious, inquisitive and skilled at examining the minutiae of symptoms presented and the broader perspectives of infection on a social and global level.   They must work well and capably with others on their team, and must form their own teams with a patient’s primary care physician in instances of single, severe infections.   </P> <P>Most health organization employers seek IDS with experience in specific diseases—that is one way to stand out from the crowd in the employment paradigm.  </P> <P>That, in brief, is the infectious disease doctor, and what he/she is and does to be successful.</P>