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What Is the Role of an Infectious Disease Specialist?

April 14, 2024

Since the 1970s, specialists in infectious (also known as communicable) diseases have been researching pathogens, diagnosing diseases, and administering newly developed medications and vaccines. An infectious disease specialist, also known as an infectious disease doctor, is a physician who specializes in both chronic and acute diseases. Prospective specialists should learn more about the role and its responsibilities, education requirements, and career outlook to determine if this career track is right for them.

The Role of an Infectious Disease Specialist

Infectious disease specialists investigate and diagnose diseases caused by infectious microorganisms, from bacteria and viruses to fungi and protozoa. While their exact responsibilities vary, infectious disease specialists may diagnose and treat patients with the following conditions:

  • Bone infections
  • Pneumonia
  • HIV
  • Viral hepatitis
  • Lyme disease
  • Streptococcal infections

These are just some examples of the known diseases these specialists research and treat. Many practitioners focus on researching current and emerging diseases. Like other specialists, most infectious disease doctors work with a team of healthcare professionals. A primary care physician or specialist in a related area refers most patients to them.

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Responsibilities of Infectious Disease Specialists

Because they are specialized professionals, infectious disease specialists can work in both clinical and research capacities. Here are a few typical responsibilities of these specialists:

  • Diagnosing acute and chronic diseases
  • Managing treatment plans for patients
  • Researching communicable diseases
  • Tracking population data and community health statistics
  • Applying research and expertise to public health
  • Communicating disease prevention strategies
  • Recommending public health initiatives based on research

Those who work in communicable diseases and public health may still work with individual patients. Still, they typically specialize in tracking community data, researching new strains of diseases, and providing education to improve public health initiatives.

Work Environment

Some infectious disease specialists work primarily in clinical settings. These professionals treat and monitor patients with communicable diseases, whether in hospitals or specialist clinical facilities. They will likely have more face-to-face interaction with patients and other healthcare professionals.

On the other hand, infectious disease doctors specializing in public health typically work in lab and research settings. These professionals actively research new strains of diseases, track population data, and communicate findings with the scientific community and the greater population. 

Infectious Disease Specialist Salary Expectations

The exact specialization, job location, and years of experience can all affect the salary expectations of this role. For example, according to Payscale, the median annual salary for an infectious disease specialist was approximately $218,230 as of September 2023. The lowest 10 percent of earners made around $172,000 annually, whereas the top 90 percent earned around $291,000 annually. 

Career Outlook

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t specifically report on infectious disease specialists, it projects the number of epidemiologists in the United States to increase by 27 percent between 2022 and 2032, much faster than the national job growth average. The BLS projects the number of physicians and surgeons to grow as well, by approximately 3 percent during the same time period.

Steps to Become an Infectious Disease Specialist

Prospective specialists in infectious diseases with an interest in public health have numerous requirements to fulfill and relevant skills to hone. The steps below can help healthcare professionals become qualified to work as infectious disease specialists in many environments. Prospective specialists must follow specific local, state, and national licensing requirements; they should research the qualifications needed in their state of practice.

Education Requirements

Infectious disease specialists will need to be licensed physicians; this means completing several educational steps. Typically, physicians must complete the following educational steps:

  1. Obtain an undergraduate degree in a related field.
  2. Enroll in medical school.
  3. Become licensed as a physician.
  4. Complete a residency and/or fellowship.

Prospective infectious disease specialists interested in public health should consider further specialized training. A master’s degree in public health, for example, can offer practical experience, public health analysis, and communitywide methodologies for specialists.

Relevant Skills

This rewarding career pathway requires a mastery of personal and technical skills. The following are just a few of the key skills that can promote a successful career in infectious diseases and public health:

  • Research. An in-depth understanding of evidence-based practices, data collection techniques, and quality research helps advance the field and inform fellow practitioners.
  • Problem-solving. Whether reviewing individual cases or analyzing population data on disease prevention strategies, specialists must be able to quickly determine the best route forward in situations in which answers may be difficult to find.
  • Communication. Excellent written and oral communication skills are essential for any physician or researcher. Specialists in infectious disease and public health must be able to clearly communicate with fellow researchers, policymakers, patients, and the general public.

Explore Your Career Pathway With Tulane University

With Tulane University’s Online Master of Public Health program, you can gain the relevant insights and hands-on experience you need to advance your career as an infectious disease specialist. Learn more about this rewarding career and how you can use it to promote positive public health solutions thanks to the award-winning faculty and integrated learning experiences at Tulane.

Advance Your Public Health Career with an MPH Program

Pursue Your Degree Online From Tulane University
Find Out More

Recommended Reading

Strategies for Community Health Advocate: Roles and Responsibilities

Community Health Promotion in Rural Areas

How Do Viruses Mutate, and What Is the Role of Epidemiology?


American College of Physicians, Infectious Disease

Cleveland Clinic, Infectious Disease Doctor

EBSCO, A Day in the Life of an Infectious Disease Specialist

Payscale, Average Physician / Doctor, Infectious Disease Salary

The BMJ, The Complete Guide to Becoming an Infectious Disease Doctor

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Physicians and Surgeons