How Can I Pursue a Career in Infectious Disease?

The need for well-qualified infectious disease medical specialists is now critical. Any young person who wants a career studying and fighting infectious diseases will find a rewarding professional life and a chance to make a real difference in the world. Infectious diseases are the second leading cause of deaths worldwide, of which more than half are children younger than five. In the U.S., infectious diseases are the third leading cause of death with more than 170,000 fatal cases per year. This figure is double what it was in the 1980s.

The Challenges of a Career in Infectious Disease Control

The infectious disease control specialist is on the front lines of today’s most amazing medical battlefield. Diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola and Hanta viruses, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and even rabies are difficult to control and cure. These specialists are part detective, part researcher and all dedicated physician. Every hospital and clinic in the world, from the most advanced Western hospital to primitive bush clinics of Sub-Saharan Africa, desperately need the services of infectious disease specialists. Nearly any interesting or adventurous career path that can be imagined can be followed within this specialty (see: Step Inside an Infectious Disease Ward).

The Educational Demanded of an Infectious Disease Control Physician

Training for physicians in infectious disease control is offered as post-doctoral fellowships, i.e., after physicians receive their medical doctorate degree (see: Can I Get Into Medical School With a Degree in Health Science?). The first year of the fellowship exposes the student to clinical training. The remaining three to six years is usually spent in research training.

Registered nurses are fast becoming important resources for infectious disease control in settings such as nursing homes, hospitals and other medical settings. While there are formal courses at local universities, many of these nurses are trained on the job by infectious disease control physicians within the hospital setting.

The Future of the Infectious Disease Control Field

While the current need for infectious disease control specialists is certainly great, the future offers even higher demands. In the U.S., the expected annual salary for a physician with a specialty of infectious disease is $197,838.

Work within the federal government includes military applications, in settings such as space stations. The U.S. also needs epidemiologists to do clinical work and research into critical situations like the periodic outbreaks of Hanta virus and rabies at Indian reservations in the western U.S.

Bioterrorists have created yet another important focus for the infectious disease control specialist. Specialists in the possible weaponizing of infectious diseases such as SARS or pandemic influenza are urgently needed.

At times, infectious disease control comes up against political policy. For example, Uganda’s new anti-homosexuality laws limit the access to HIV/AIDS services only to the LGBT community. The remainder of the country is not able to receive retrovirals or other medications. Sensitivity and an ability to work within other cultures may be a key requirement for some positions.

How can you pursue a career in infectious disease control? Do well in your undergraduate and doctoral schools and show a strong interest in the field. You will then find yourself challenged and rewarded in many ways. Whatever one’s particular passion, a career in infectious disease control can be a rewarding journey.