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How to Become an Allergist

April 7, 2022
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Should I Become an Allergist?Allergist SalaryHow Long Does It Take to Become an Allergist?Step by Step: How to Become an AllergistHow to Become an Allergist FAQs

Wondering where you should start? Or how long does it take to become an allergist? Let’s discuss the steps! Here is everything you need to know about how to become an allergist.

Did you know more than 50 million Americans struggle with various types of allergies each year? With these numbers, it’s clear to see why an increasing amount of jobs have opened up for allergists and immunologists in the United States. Immunology isn’t the most popular specialty but can provide a fruitful career full of opportunities. 

If you’re a medical student or resident trying to decide if immunology is right for you, you’ve come to the right place. Here we’ll cover a step-by-step guide on how to become an allergist, how long it takes, and why immunology could be the right choice for you. Let’s get started!

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Should I Become an Allergist?

Choosing a medical specialty is always a challenging process. Before settling on immunology, it’s crucial to consider every aspect of the field. Let’s go over some of the main reasons medical students gravitate toward a career as an allergist.

Daily Life of an Allergist

Let’s talk about what you can expect on a daily basis as an allergist. According to Dr. Malik, an allergy and immunology specialist with over twenty years of practice under his belt, daily life as an allergist starts as early as 5:40 am. The day begins with reviewing his patient schedule, lab results, chart notes, and preparing for new and returning patients. 

“In between patients, I will work on allergy shot formulas, renewal authorizations, discuss patient care issues with the nurses, draft appeal letters for denied prior authorizations, and sign checks for accounts payable,”

Says Malik on his busy schedule. After completing rotations (sometimes with a resident), he takes lunch at 1 pm before continuing to give allergy shots on a lighter schedule. 

To wrap up the day, Malik finishes seeing patients at 5 pm and completes the rest of his administrative work before heading home at 6 pm. According to Dr. Malik, the most challenging aspect of his position is finding out the allergic trigger, while the most rewarding aspect is “helping the patient and seeing that they are in control of their allergic disease instead of the disease controlling them.”

Benefits of Immunology as a Specialty

Allergy and immunology have an array of benefits as a specialty. For one, the average salary for an allergist is above the national average for physicians in the United States. Becoming an allergist is also an excellent option for medical students who love to teach, as the specialty requires doctors to constantly teach patients how to manage their disease.

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Allergist Salary

If you’re considering a career in immunology, you may be wondering how much an allergist makes in a year. The average salary for an allergy and immunology specialist in the US is $262,703

Table showing the percentile salaries of Allergists and Immunologists

Immunology/Allergy Salary table 

The table above shows immunology/allergy salaries by percentile in the United States. Salaries can range from $236,365 to $308,195 depending on a number of factors, such as:

How Long Does It Take to Become an Allergist?

Becoming an allergist is one of the longer academic paths, as allergy and immunology require specialty training through a fellowship program after residency. In total, becoming an allergist takes nine to ten years of education beyond a bachelor’s degree (13 years of school). 

Remember, before specializing in allergy and immunology, you must take the typical path to residency through a four-year bachelor's degree followed by another four years in medical school. 

Step-by-Step: How to Become an Allergist

Here we’ve created a step-by-step guide on how to become an allergist. Each step is an essential part of the process to become an allergist.

Step 1: Decide if Allergy and Immunology is Right for You

As a medical student or resident, there are many options available to you. Before settling on allergy and immunology, make sure to weigh all of the possibilities and consider the pros and cons of each. Ask yourself the following questions to help determine how passionate you are about the program: 

Passion and dedication are required in the field of immunology, so it’s crucial to understand how you feel about it before applying. Speaking to professionals, shadowing, and volunteering in allergy and immunology settings are great experiences that will help you make your decision and look excellent on your pre-med CV.

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor's Degree

Most medical schools in the United States require applicants to have completed a bachelor’s degree. Your major during your bachelor’s doesn’t necessarily matter, as long as you are able to take the necessary prerequisite courses for medical school. The common required courses for medical school are:

Every medical school has unique prerequisite requirements. You should research the requirements for each of your target schools two years before you apply to medical school to give yourself plenty of time to build your course schedule accordingly. Taking the necessary prerequisite courses will also help you prepare for the MCAT.

Step 3: Take the MCAT

Almost every medical school in the United States requires the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) to apply. You should give yourself at least three months to study for the MCAT and several months to retake the test if need be. 

Many students retake the MCAT to ensure their score is competitive. The highest possible MCAT score is 528, while the average MCAT score for entering MD students in the US is 511. To determine if your MCAT score is competitive within the expectations of your target schools, take a look at their class statistics. 

Step 4: Apply for Medical School

Once you’ve completed your prerequisites and taken the MCAT, it’s time to apply for medical school. Most medical schools require the AMCAS application alongside other application materials, including: 

Medical schools also often request a video or in-person interview to make their final decisions. 

Applying for medical school is a long and challenging process. It is crucial to do extensive research on your target schools and put your heart into your application. If you are applying for medical school and are seeking guidance, try setting up a consultation with an academic advisor or an experienced admissions consultant.

Step 5: Complete an MD or DO degree

Once you’ve been accepted into a program, you can complete your DO or MD degree at an accredited osteopathic or allopathic medical school. 

Most medical school programs are four years in length, with the first two years consisting of general science courses and the last two years focusing more on your areas of interest. Students typically spend the last two years of their degree taking courses that are tailored to their interests. 

After your second year, you’ll also take Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), the first of three licensing exams you’ll need to complete throughout your education. Most students also take Step 2 of the USMLE in their fourth year before moving to residency. 

Step 6: Apply for a Residency in Internal Medicine or Pediatrics

After graduating from medical school and completing steps one and two of the USMLE, you can begin applying to residency programs in either internal medicine or pediatrics. Completing a residency in either one of these specialties will allow you to later attend an allergy and immunology fellowship program upon completion. 

To apply for internal medicine or pediatrics programs, you’ll typically need to complete an ERAS application (unless a school has provided its own separate application). If a residency program is interested in your application, they will most likely ask you for an interview or additional application materials. 

Once you’ve completed all of your interviews (and submitted additional material if necessary), both parties can move on to the matching process. 

Using the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) system, you can create a rank order list in which you name your target residency programs in order of preference. Once the residency program’s top choices are taken into consideration, the Match pairs each resident with one of the programs on their list. 

Internal medicine residency programs are typically three years in length, while pediatrics programs typically take four years. Of course, you should choose the specialty that best suits your areas of interest and what you are passionate about. 

Step 7: Complete a Residency Program

As mentioned above, to complete an allergy and immunology fellowship, you’ll have to complete a residency in either internal medicine (three years) or pediatrics (four years).

After the first year of your internal medicine or pediatrics residency, you will be able to complete the third and final step of your USMLE exam.

Once you have completed your residency, you’ll need to pass an examination for board certification from either the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP) or the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM).

Step 8: Complete an Allergy and Immunology Fellowship 

Once you’ve made it to your allergy and immunology fellowship program, you can zero in on your specialty and master your craft. Fellowship programs are highly selective educational opportunities for motivated doctors who want to perfect their craft. 

The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) keeps a list of allergy/immunology fellowship programs on its website. 

Use this time to make connections, gain plenty of hands-on experience, and learn as much as you can. Since allergy and immunology fellowships are typically only two years in length, it’s crucial to absorb as much information as possible before moving on to the next phase of your career. 

Once you have completed your allergy and immunology fellowship program, you must pass the board certification exam administered by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology (ABAI). 

Step 9: Obtain a Medical License

By the time you have completed medical school, residency, and your allergy/immunology fellowship, you should have completed every step of the USMLE and two board certification exams. 

However, some US states have separate requirements for licensure and need to verify your documents before granting a medical license. You should apply for state licensure in every state you intend to work in to avoid delays or confusion later on. 

FAQs: How to Become an Allergist

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about how to become an allergist. 

1. How Many Years of School Does it Take to Become An Allergist?

It typically takes thirteen years to become an allergist in the United States. The first four years are spent in a bachelor’s degree, completing medical school prerequisite courses, and taking the MCAT. You follow the bachelor’s degree with an MD or DO program, which typically takes four years to complete. 

Then, you will spend another three to four years in an internal medicine or pediatrics residency. The final step is an allergy and immunology fellowship, which is typically two years in length.

2. How Much Do Allergists Make?

The average salary for allergists in the US is $262,703, which is slightly above the national median salary for physicians. Allergist salaries can range between $236,365 and $308,195 according to a number of factors such as location, years of experience, and the individual institution. 

3. Is There a High Demand for Allergists in the US?

According to a report from the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) the US is facing an allergist shortage that is only expected to decline over the next few years. While this is troubling news, aspiring allergists can expect plenty of job opportunities heading into the field.

4. Do You Need to Go to Medical School to Be An Allergist?

Yes, you must be a licensed physician with a medical degree from an allopathic or osteopathic medical school to become an allergist. Beyond medical school, allergists must also attend a three to four-year residency program and a two-year fellowship program. 

5. Are Allergy and Immunology Fellowships Competitive?

All medical fellowships are highly selective and competitive, including allergy and immunology. If you’re interested in pursuing a career as an allergist, you should try to find ways to gain experience in specialty throughout medical school and residency. 

You can increase your chances of acceptance by talking to professionals, volunteering, or shadowing. Anything you can do to give yourself a competitive edge for fellowship programs will serve you well. 

6. What is the Difference Between an Allergist and an Immunologist?

The terms “allergist” and “immunologist” are interchangeable and reference the same profession and field of study. An immunologist is another term for allergy specialist or allergist. 

Final Thoughts

If you are considering becoming an allergist or immunologist, it’s important to understand the level of dedication the specialty requires. To become an allergist, you must successfully complete an allergy/immunology fellowship program after already completing a bachelor’s degree, an MD or DO degree, and an internal medicine or pediatrics residency program.

Fellowships are highly selective and can be challenging to get into, so your passion for the field must show through your experience. Allergists must show dedication and a genuine love of learning. If you’re applying to residency or fellowships to become an allergist and are looking for assistance, try speaking with an experienced admissions consultant to help with crafting your application.

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