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Allergist

Alternate Career Titles:

Allergy and Immunology Specialist

Allergist Job Description: An Allergist treats patients with a variety of allergy or immunological health issues

Allergist Salary (Annual): $242,142

Allergist Salary Range: $195,774 to $322,315

How Long To Become an Allergist: 10 years

Allergist Requirements: Doctor of Medicine Degree

Allergist

Become an Allergist

Career Description

An Allergist is a healthcare professional who specializes in allergy and immunology research, education and clinical practice. More specifically, these professionals treat patients experiencing allergic reactions or conditions, respiratory tract diseases, auto-inflammatory syndromes, systemic diseases or gastrointestinal disorders.

Most commonly, Allergists will treat patient diseases including immune-mediated food hypersensitivities, asthma, a-topic dermatitis and allergic rhinitis. In the course of their work, Allergists must understand how to operate various specialized instruments and medical equipment to be able to examine patients, conduct blood tests and administer allergy patch testing. allergists perform allergy skin testing (the most common test they perform). They do patch testing as well, but this is a test to determine the cause of contact dermatitis and is not done as frequently (and is more often performed by Dermatologist). Allergists also frequently perform breathing tests since they care for many asthmatic patients. Following these tests, Allergists will monitor a patient’s condition to ensure that there are no adverse reactions.

“My career as an Allergist is very rewarding because I am able to educate patients about their condition and help them to feel better,” Debra Lebo, MD, an Allergist practicing in New York, shared. “I spend a lot of time with patients finding out about their symptoms, past medical history and exposures. I then examine them and perform tests to determine the cause of their symptoms, as well as educate them on how to avoid what is triggering their allergies.”

Allergy and Immunology Specialists frequently work alongside Registered Nurses, Certified Nursing Assistants, Medical Assistants and Health Educators.

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Education & Training

To become an Allergist, a learner must first obtain a Bachelor’s Degree, ideally in a related science. A degree in another field as long if acceptable as well as long as the student takes the prerequisite science courses needed to apply to medical school. Then, they must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and apply and gain admittance to a medical school program. Upon completing medical school and all of the required clinical rotations, learners must then complete a 3 residency inInternal Medicine or Pediatrics, or a combination of both.

Finally, a prospective Allergist must then complete an additional 2 to 3 year allergy and immunology fellowship. A fellowship provides specialized training about examining and treating children and adults with allergies.“My path to becoming an Allergist included 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 3 years of a pediatrics or internal medicine residency and 2 years of an allergy fellowship,” Lebo recalled. “The training is difficult due to the length and overwhelming demands. There isn’t always a lot of time to pursue outside interests.”

Lebo added that, during a residency, trainees should expect to work long days and take call at night. She said this can lead to sleep deprivation, but that the hours during a fellowship are far less demanding.

After completion of a two-year fellowship in the specialty of Allergy/Immunology in an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) accredited program, the Allergist becomes eligible for board certification. Allergist/Immunologists who are listed as ABAI-certified or board-certified have passed the certifying examination of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology (ABAI).

“Receiving accreditation (board certification) will help you gain more respect from colleagues and patients. Accreditation also helps you to find a position after training,” Lebo ensured. “Also, insurance plans usually prefer when an Allergist becomes board certified. I received accreditation by passing exams and I have to maintain my accreditation by completing a certain number of hours of continuing medical education annually.”

Advancement

To advance in a career as an Allergist, professionals often choose to open their own practice, although this obviously comes with greater administrative responsibility. When deciding to open a solo practice, learning the “business side” of medicine can be extremely beneficial. This means learning how to operate electronic health records, keep records of billing and reimbursement and overseeing all employees and practice maintenance. These business principles can be learned by enrolling in business courses or certifications, or by acquiring a mentor. Oppositely, practicing in groups which helps Allergists to be more efficient and cut practice expenses.

Alternatively, Allergists may advance by choosing to enter the realm of either academics or research. In academics, these professionals can become members of an Allergy and Immunology faculty at various medical schools. They also work in a hospital based setting and help to train medical students, residents and fellows. As for research, clinical trials constantly employ Allergists to perform tests designed to understand patient awareness, behaviors and preferences related to allergy prevention, treatment and management.

“Performing research and getting involved in medical organizations, such as the Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, can definitely lead to advancement opportunities,” Lebo affirmed. “Once you have completed your training additional schooling for certifications are not necessarily needed.”

Experience & Skills

To become a successful Allergist, professionals should have strong reading comprehension skills, allowing them to understand patient documents, prescriptions, electronic records, etc. They should further be able to listen to what their patients have to say regarding their conditions, and then use critical thinking skills to develop diagnoses or solutions.

Do you like to solve problems? Problem-solving is another skill an Allergist should possess. This ability allows professionals to seek alternative solutions when initial attempts are deemed unsuccessful. Overall, Allergists should thoroughly understand medicine pertaining to allergies and immunology, interpersonal communication, biology and the elements of psychology.

“Allergists need to be intelligent, able to think quickly and be a little compulsive to make sure they have taken care of all of the patients issues,” Lebo added. “They must also have a good memory so they can think about all of the possible causes of a patient’s problem and care for them properly.”

Personality

Allergists should be professionals who possess great attention to detail and a genuine concern for others. Allergies and immunological disorders can greatly impact the lives of patients, and these professionals are responsible for the analytical thinking to develop new solutions. In this career, Allergists should also enjoy working indoors.

“To become an Allergist, professionals need to be patient and able to listen to everything their client tells them,” Lebo explained. “They should be personable too, so their patients feel comfortable discussing their conditions. Being able to interact others is important in this role as well, so that Allergists can effectively work with other Healthcare Career professionals.”

Lifestyle

Typically, Allergists who are employed by hospitals or outpatient centers work full-time weekday hours. Yet, Allergists who are new to the profession, or who are still completing their fellowship, may initially find the number of hours they are expected to work overwhelming.

After an initial few years of specialized training, work schedules can become more flexible. Through opening a private practice, Allergists enable themselves to set their own work schedules according to their preferences. Worth considering, however, some Allergists will still choose to work evening or weekend hours to accommodate patients. Many professionals employed within other careers in medicine become accustomed to accommodating patients,

“In my case, I arrive at work 30 to 60 minutes prior to seeing clients so that I can look at my schedule of patients, review their charts and make sure all test results are present,” Lebo said. “This way I can also prepare my nurse for what testing will be done during the day.”

She continued by explaining that after her review of that day’s plan, she next responds to patient messages, and completes paperwork such as prescription renewals and school/work forms. Then, she begins seeing her patients.

“We schedule 30 minutes for each new consultation and 15 minutes for follow-up patients,” Lebo explained. “After I have seen all of my patients, I stay in the office to dictate letters to referring Family Physicians and finish any paperwork. As you can tell, my days can be long.”

Employment

Currently, the career outlook for Allergist careers is very strong. This is because a large amount of the population experiences allergies. Additionally, because becoming an Allergist takes at least 10 years to achieve, learners are entering the field as a slower rate than in other occupations. That means that Allergists are in high demand!

“To find a position as an Allergist, you must complete all of the training. During your training you often meet other Allergists in the community and you can make connections which will later help you to find openings,” Lebo advised. “Many positions are found by word of mouth.”

She added that many of the different Allergist societies and organizations will also post about available positions. Lebo concluded that sometimes relocating is the best way to secure a ideal position.

Earnings

The median annual salary for an Allergist is $242,142. While the top 10 percent of employees in this occupation are recorded to earn more than $322,315 annually, the lowest 10 percent earns less than $195,774 per year. Earnings can be salaried, but many private Practitioners have incentive clauses where they earn a certain percentage of the amount of money they collect from seeing patients. Overall, earnings in this career largely depend on years of experience, location and employer. Note that most Allergist positions pay a salaried rate, rather than an hourly rate.

“The earning potential is good in this career when you bill though insurance companies. However, insurance companies have decreased reimbursement to doctors in all fields,” Lebo warned. “This is a way to cut costs since healthcare has become so expensive.”

Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology is a membership organization comprised of Allergists and Immunologists. The organization is focused on improving health and school-related outcomes for children with asthma.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) is an organization comprised of Immunologists, Asthma Specialists and Allergists. The goal of this organization is to furthering the field of asthma and immunology through research and treatment.

The American Association of Immunologists, Inc. is an organization dedicated to advancing the field of immunology and fostering development opportunities for researchers at every career stage. Through this organization, members work together to address common interests and advance the boundaries of knowledge.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) is the nation’s oldest and leading asthma and allergy charity. The foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with asthma and allergic diseases through education, advocacy and research.

The World Allergy Organization (WAO) is an organization consisting of allergology and clinical immunology societies from around the world. Through collaboration, WAO provides direct educational outreach programs, symposia and lectureships to members across the globe.

Getting Started

  • Shadow or observe an Allergist
  • Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in a related science
  • Research medical schools with allergy rotations
  • Apply and enroll
  • Apply to fellowships

All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Allergist Debbie ChumskyMeet the professional: Debra Lebo, MD

Age: 57
Practice: ENT Associates of NY
Location: Astoria and Jackson Heights, NY

What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

“I would suggest that prospective Allergists make sure this career path is really what they want to do. The educational requirements are a big investment in time and money, but the career overall is extremely rewarding.”

What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?

“The number one mistake people make is thinking that the field of allergy is just testing people for allergies and treating them with allergy shots. There are many other conditions we treat and many other forms of treatment we use to manage our patients.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

“Prospective Allergists should ask themselves whether they are willing to take time to thoroughly explain to patients how to manage their condition. Allergy involves a lot of education to teach patients how and when to use medications, and how they can avoid what triggers their symptoms.”

Why did you choose to become an Allergist?

“I initially planned to be a Pediatrician because this career was a way to combine my interest in science with my love of children and desire to help people. Once I started my pediatric training I realized that I was learning a little about a lot of different areas of pediatrics, but that I was not an expert in any of them. This made me uncomfortable. Also, I didn’t love the lifestyle of a general Pediatrician due to the huge volume of phone calls these professionals receive from parents on nights and weekends. I felt more comfortable specializing in one area and becoming an expert. I chose allergy because I had taken care of many pediatric asthmatic patients during my general training. I was further inspired because I had been treated for allergic conditions myself as a child.”

If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?

“I am successful because I take the time to listen to my patients and explain their condition to them thoroughly. I make them feel comfortable during their visit and treat them with respect. I am also a very hard worker.”

*Credentialing organizations: The American Board of Allergy and Immunology

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