Lessons on How to Become an Allergist
Becoming an Allergist is not a quick process. As Nathan Hare MD, a 44-year-old Allergist practicing at UPMC Susquehanna Health in Williamsport, Penn., learned, this career involves many years of study; four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, three years of residency and two to three years of an allergy immunology fellowship.
Over the course of this 14-year educational span, Hare learned a great deal about this medical career as a whole and the allergy sub-specialty. Here are some of his greatest takeaways from those many years of experience on what it means and how to become an Allergist:
Allergists treat patients of all ages
Allergies know no age limits. From mold and ragweed to animal hair and seasonal allergies, millions of Americans suffer from allergies each year. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. with an annual cost in excess of $18 billion. For this reason, Allergists must be prepared to treat patients from infancy to elderly age.
“I trained as an Internist, so training as an Allergist allowed me to train to take care of kids, which I missed,” Hare explained. “I see patients in the age range more or less from birth to death, or zero to 100. We work with lots of families and children, so if you enjoy the combination of ages and patients, this career can be fun.”
Allergists have the ability to change patient lives
Depending on specific allergies, reactions can be inhibiting and drastically impact a patient’s ability to function in everyday life. Therefore, through the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of a patient, an Allergist is given the unique opportunity to determine patient outcomes and potentially cure them of their immune response.
“I liked the fact that as an Allergist there are conditions that you can help people live with by improving their medical conditions, and sometimes curing them,” Hare emphasized. “At times in medicine there are chronic conditions for which there is not much that can be done for the patient. For me, this is harder to deal with on a long-term basis.”
Allergists do not rely solely on medication, expanding their scope of treatment
By definition, allergies are damaging immune responses by the body to certain substances, especially pollen, fur, particular foods, dust and more. Therefore, to treat these responses, Allergists often rely on environmental modifications, possibly including immunotherapies.
“Environmental modifications are ways to retrain the immune system so that the patient does not have as severe or any reaction,” Hare shared. “Examples include allergy shots, sublingual tablets and oral immunotherapy for food allergies. Some patient treatments are straightforward, whereas others may be more complicated.”
Allergists must constantly be learning
The field of healthcare is ever-changing, which leads the allergy sub-specialty to advance and change as well. This means that Allergists must be equally dedicated to treating patients as they are to furthering their own education to keep up with industry standards. A great resource for staying up-to-date on tips and trends within this career is The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
“There is always something new to learn, which keeps me interested in this career so I don’t get bored,” Hare said. “Learning is fun, but there is a lot of hard work involved. If you’re not careful, getting caught up in all of the learning that you have to do can be easy.”
Allergists have varied patient cases and workdays
With almost exclusively outpatient appointments, Hare says he normally sees patients with asthma, environmental allergies, stinging insect allergies, latex allergies, drug allergies, food allergies, rashes, allergic eczema or atopic dermatitis, anaphylaxis, hives, swelling, immune deficiencies, recurrent infections or chronic sinusitis. This translates to three to eight new patients per day, with the rest being follow-up appointments.
“Part of the fun of being an Allergist is that there is no ‘average’ day in terms of what we see patients for,” Hare revealed. “ I see anywhere from 10 to 25 patients in a day, depending on the time of year and how busy we are. We tend to get busier in the spring and late summer, with business slower in the winter.”
Ultimately, business tends to be slower in the winter months because this is when outdoor allergens tend to die off for the year. However, some allergies, including house dust mites, animal dander and cockroach droppings, are actually known to become worse in winter when there is less ventilation. Regardless, each season brings new allergens, patients rand required treatments.
“Overall, being an Allergist is a rewarding and fulfilling career in healthcare,” Hare stressed. “I have lots of smart, caring, hard-working colleagues and have been able to work with many interesting patients who have taught me a lot along the way. Don’t forget that helping the patient is the reason that we do this in the first place.”
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