How To Become an Immunologist (With Job Duties and Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 13 October 2022

Published 29 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Patients seek the care of an immunologist to ensure their immune system is healthy. Being an immunologist involves duties within medical facilities and laboratories. Learning more about what the position entails and the credentials you need helps you to prepare to work in this occupation. In this article, we define an immunologist and their job responsibilities, explain the skill set the role requires and provide steps on how to become an immunologist.

What is an immunologist?

An immunologist is a medical professional who diagnoses and treats conditions in the immune system. Also known as allergists, immunologists contribute to research to determine how immune diseases materialise and their overall impact on the human body. They typically work in a clinical setting, where they interact directly with patients, and in a laboratory, where they test samples and interpret the results of their research. Some immunologists have specialities in assessing various illnesses, such as:

  • anaphylaxis

  • HIV

  • lupus

  • leukaemia

  • tuberculosis

  • rheumatoid arthritis

  • asthma

What do immunologists do?

Immunologists perform tasks based on the needs of their patients and their dedication to their research. Here are examples of the clinical responsibilities of an immunologist:

  • Documenting metrics for patients' vital signs, including heartbeat, lung capacity and blood pressure

  • Developing treatment plans to minimise the effects of autoimmune disorders

  • Prescribing medication to boost the health and physical wellness of patients

  • Educating patients on the causes of their conditions and symptoms

  • Carrying out diagnostic testing, such as ultrasounds, biopsies and pulmonary examinations to support a patient's physical assessment

  • Demonstrating how to use equipment, such as inhalers and EpiPens, to combat allergic reactions

  • Collecting information on a patient's medical history to identify causes of current illnesses or anticipate future health issues

  • Making recommendations to patients' family members and friends on how to provide emotional support throughout their loved ones' recovery

Here are examples of duties immunologists may have when working in laboratories:

  • Interpreting the findings of lab tests to identify patterns among patient diagnoses

  • Consulting with fellow immunologists who have other specialities to learn from their expertise

  • Ensuring that test results are timely and accurate

  • Sharing their findings with other members of the medical team, such as physicians

Related: How To Become a Medical Researcher

How to become an immunologist

Here are three steps that you can use as a guide on how to become an immunologist:

1. Earn a degree in a science-related field

An undergraduate degree is the foundation for your career as an immunologist. You can gain exposure to medicine and learn how the human body works. The curriculum may also teach you research skills that can enable you to collect and analyse data related to health care. Relevant disciplines include:

  • biology

  • microbiology

  • biomedical science

  • chemistry

  • pharmacology

  • genetics

Related: How To Become a Biomedical Scientist

2. Enrol in a training programme

The second step is to complete a training curriculum to get exposure to working in immunology. Candidates can enrol in the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) once they've earned their undergraduate degrees. Through this programme, you can gain professional experience in health care and earn a certification that validates your clinical expertise. It typically takes three years to complete. To boost your chances of admission, you might consider pursuing an advanced degree in a subject related to biological sciences. If you already have experience as a registered clinical scientist, you can apply for Higher Specialist Scientist Training (HSST).

3. Determine your immunology speciality

The speciality determines the area of immunology in which you want to practise. It's important that you undergo additional training within your speciality to develop your expertise. You can learn how to interact with patients to address their needs and identify the symptoms of certain autoimmune disorders.

Salary expectations for immunologists

The average salary of an immunologist is £82,408 per year. Your annual income can depend on the experience you've gained in health care. For example, a professional who has worked as an immunologist for 20 years may have a higher salary than their counterpart who recently graduated from medical school.

Another influence on your earning potential is your employer, as some agencies may offer you more money for the position based on the extent of your research or clinical responsibilities. As you seek employment as an immunologist, consider your ideal salary and how your qualifications can help you earn an income that fits your lifestyle.

Skills of an immunologist

If you're interested in becoming an immunologist, consider strengthening these skills to prepare you for the career you desire. They include:

Time management

Immunologists practise time management to handle their clinical and research duties. For example, they may coordinate hours at the beginning of the workday to meet with patients and administer treatment. Then, they may commit the later hours to monitoring data collection in the laboratory. Having good time management skills helps immunologists stay organised, which allows them to multitask on multiple patient cases without interfering with the quality of their work.

Related: Time-management skills: definition, examples and tips for improvement

Attention to detail

Attention to detail is another essential research and clinical skill for immunologists. When monitoring a patient's condition, you need to pay attention to the symptoms the patient experiences and what they can mean. Noticing a vital sign can help you make accurate diagnoses, which means the patient receives the correct treatment and improves their overall health. In the laboratory, a focus on detail can contribute to a breakthrough in research. Immunologists can discover trends in the data by examining every result closely, and their thorough analysis assists fellow physicians in making other discoveries.

Related: How to Improve Your Attention to Detail

Communication

Competent communication skills enable immunologists to foster trust with their patients and collaborate with other professionals in the healthcare field. There are four types of communication abilities that physicians may use when encountering others in the hospital or laboratory. They include:

  • Interpersonal communication: Interpersonal communication is the ability to tailor your speaking patterns based on your conversational partner, ensuring they understand your messages. Immunologists may use technical language when speaking with colleagues, but they will speak in simpler terms to their patients so they can understand their diagnoses.

  • Active listening: Patients often confide in their physicians about their health concerns. Immunologists actively listen to their patients and give them their undivided attention to better assess their needs and treatment plans.

  • Nonverbal communication: Effective nonverbal communication helps display emotions, and it can be beneficial to make sure your body language matches your verbal expressions. For example, when an immunologist shows a patient how to use an inhaler, they can use hand gestures to emphasise an important point and use inflections to show they're serious.

  • Written communication: Both the clinical and research aspects of an immunologist's job involve written communication. You may need to send an email to a colleague, write up a referral letter or examination report for a patient or draft articles documenting your research.

Related: 4 Types of Communication (With Examples)

Critical thinking

Research analysis requires immunologists to use critical thinking skills. They may collect a substantial amount of data over a period of time and strive to draw conclusions on what the results mean. With critical thinking, you can denote relationships between patient symptoms and their ultimate diagnoses, for example, or search for links between genetics and the likelihood of developing an autoimmune disorder. In a clinical setting, immunologists may analyse patients' vital signs to determine progress in their treatment plans.

Related: What Are Critical Thinking Skills and How Are They Used?

Adaptability

An immunologist's work environment may change frequently, so adaptability helps them stay productive when encountering new circumstances. For example, if a patient experiences a symptom that went undetected in the initial screening, the immunologist may adjust the treatment plan to acknowledge this new information. Another instance may be an emerging technology that changes the way scientists test samples, which may require the immunologist to establish a new research process. With adaptability, you can incorporate your recent knowledge into your daily work habits to maintain productivity in the workplace.

Related: What are adaptability skills and how can they benefit you?

Leadership

A lead immunologist directs a team of scientists working in immunology, and this role requires strong leadership skills. Leaders can set an example of how to perform competently at their jobs, and they often make decisions on behalf of the team. For example, in the laboratory, a lead immunologist may determine how much organisational funding is available to launch a new clinical trial or the deadlines for testing and interpreting sample data for specific research projects. If you want to advance your career beyond immunology, consider broadening your leadership skills to motivate your peers and deliver positive results.

Related: What does leadership mean? (Plus skills)

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to empathise with others and identify their emotional needs. As an immunologist, you often have to explain a patient's diagnosis to them, as well as the trajectory of their treatment plans. Having emotional intelligence helps you channel their perspective and consider their concerns about their condition or conditions. You can then provide emotional support to give them the confidence to seek the treatment they need. A strong relationship with your patients can benefit their level of comfort when they visit the hospital and increase the likelihood of them contacting you if they have questions.

Related: 5 emotional management skills (with definition and benefits)

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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