With nearly one in three U.S. adults and more than one in four U.S. children reporting seasonal allergy, eczema, or food allergy, the role of allergists has become increasingly vital. Experts in identifying allergens, developing personalized treatment plans, and providing ongoing care to patients, allergists are crucial in improving the quality of their patients’ lives.

Becoming an allergist can be an exciting career choice. But how to become an allergist? Join us as we explore this profession and provide you with the essential information and resources to embark on an allergist career. 

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What is an Allergist?

An allergist is a licensed physician specializing in preventing, diagnosing, and treating of immune system problems, such as:

  • Asthma;
  • Eczema;
  • Hives;
  • Hay fever;
  • Sinusitis;
  • Anaphylaxis;
  • Immune disorders;
  • Allergic reactions.   

What do Allergists do?

Allergists use diagnostic tests to identify allergens triggering a patient’s symptoms. Then, they develop comprehensive treatment plans to help patients manage their allergic reactions. Therefore, allergists perform several important tasks with patients under their care, such as:

  • Performing physical examinations;
  • Recommending diagnostic tests for allergies from beverages, foods, pet dander, pollens, molds, etc.;
  • Analyzing and interpreting medical tests;
  • Explaining lab results to patients;
  • Prescribing medication;
  • Evaluating treatment options and making changes as needed;
  • Practicing patient education and teaching them about their allergies and conditions.
What do Allergists do

How to Become an Allergist: Education and Training

Before you embark on the challenging adventure of becoming an allergist, you should determine whether allergy and immunology align with your interests. Reflect on where you see yourself working in the future and whether you enjoy advising patients on managing persistent health problems, which requires your commitment and passion. 

Once you have made the decision to pursue this career, the next step is understanding how to become an allergist. Here is a step-by-step guide on the education and training requirements for the journey to becoming an allergist.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree

The first step on your journey to becoming an allergist is earning a bachelor’s degree in an accredited college or university. While there are no degree major requirements for medical school, earning your bachelor’s degree in a science-related field enables you to take the courses required for medical school, such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and English. It also provides you with the academic rigor, knowledge, and critical thinking skills necessary in medical school and enables you to explore various fields in healthcare, helping you make informed decisions about your future. To better prepare for medical school, you can also enroll in a pre-med program.

2. Take the MCAT

The MCAT plays a critical role in the admissions process for medical school because it assesses your knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and your critical thinking and reasoning skills. A good MCAT score shows admissions committees that you possess the foundational knowledge and readiness to face rigorous medical school coursework, increasing your chances of enrolling in your dream medical school.  

3. Apply for medical school 

After finishing the prerequisite courses, you can apply to medical school. The medical school application process is long and challenging. You should extensively research the specific requirements and strategies to strengthen your application. In addition to your bachelor’s degree and MCAT score, the medical school application process usually involves submitting the following:

  • Personal statement;
  • GPA;
  • Letters of recommendation;
  • Pre-med CV;
  • Secondary essays.

Medical schools may also request a video or an in-person interview before making their final decision. 

4. Complete an MD or DO degree

After enrolling in a medical school, you can choose the MD or the DO route. While both paths provide you with the necessary medical education and training foundation to become a licensed allergist, there are significant differences in their treatment approaches. MD programs focus on allopathic medicine, using medications and surgeries to treat diseases. In contrast, DO programs incorporate osteopathic principles centered on the body’s ability to heal itself, placing a strong emphasis on preventative care. 

5. Complete a residency program

Because allergy and immunology is a subspecialty, you must complete either a pediatrics residency or an internal medicine residency to become an allergist. Both residencies allow you to attend an allergy and immunology fellowship program. You need to fill out an ERAS application to apply to either program. A residency program will then ask you for an interview or additional information. Following, using the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP), you can rank your target residency programs, after which you’ll be paired with a program on your list. 

During residency, you’ll undergo intensive training to develop clinical skills, knowledge, and expertise. Moreover, you’ll collaborate with seasoned doctors and other professionals to help you understand the complexities of allergies and immune disorders. 

6. Complete an allergy and immunology fellowship

After completing the residency program, either in internal medicine or pediatrics, you must pursue an allergy and immunology fellowship. A fellowship is a great way to advance in your specialty, gain plenty of hands-on experience, build connections, and master your craft. You also learn to interpret diagnostic tests, communicate medical information to your patients, assess the risks and benefits of specific treatments, and counsel patients regarding disorders. As you enhance and refine your skills, you prepare to take and pass the board certification exam by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology (ABAI).

7. Earn a medical license 

The last step to becoming an allergist is earning a medical license. You must pass the USMLE exams for MD programs or the COMLEX-USA for DO programs to earn medical licensure. You’ll have to take the first step of USMLE or level 1 of COMLEX-USA at the end of the second year of medical school. Next, you’ll have to pass the second step of USMLE or level 2 of COMLEX-USA at the beginning of the fourth year of medical school. Lastly, you’ll have to take the final step of USMLE or level 3 of COMLEX-USA after finishing the first year of residency.

Although by the time you complete your residency and fellowship, you’ll complete the three steps of the USMLE or the three levels of COMLEX-USA and board certification, you still need to complete the specific requirements to gain licensure from the state you want to practice in.

Essential Skills of an Allergist

Besides having a passion for patient care and committing to improving the lives and well-being of individuals with allergic conditions, to excel in your position as an allergist, you’ll need a combination of soft and hard skills, including:

  • Communication;
  • Empathy;
  • Diagnostic skills;
  • Medical knowledge;
  • Problem-solving;
  • Analytical skills.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Allergist?

Although the actual time it takes to become an allergist varies depending on whether you take a gap year after undergraduate studies or other personal life circumstances, the timeline for becoming an allergist can be:

  • Bachelor’s degree: four years, during which you’ll complete the medical school prerequisite courses, clinical experience, and the MCAT;
  • Medical school: an additional four years for acquiring foundational medical knowledge and essential hands-on experience;
  • Residency: three years within internal medicine or pediatrics programs;
  • Fellowship: two years dedicated to gaining specialized training and knowledge in allergy and immunology.

In total, it can take around 13 years after high school to become an allergist. 

The Bottom Line

Becoming an allergist requires a significant commitment to education, training, and patient care. The key requirements to become an allergist include competing undergraduate education, residency, fellowship, and board certification. By embarking on a career as an allergist, you’ll join the league of highly respected professionals who play a vital role in treating allergic conditions and immune system disorders. So, if you’re passionate about significantly impacting your patient’s health and well-being, begin your journey to become an allergist today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of being an allergist?

Pursuing a career as an allergist can be rewarding and fulfilling for many reasons. As an allergist, you get to help your patients improve their quality of life. Moreover, you can work a more consistent schedule, or if you work in a private practice, you can set your own schedule. 

What is the difference between an allergist and an immunologist?

Although some allergists and immunologists share similar tasks of using medical tests and examinations to diagnose conditions and prescribe medications, there are significant differences between the two. Allergists focus on working with patients suffering from allergic reactions or allergy-related conditions such as asthma, eczema, allergic rhinitis, etc. In contrast, immunologists have a broader scope of practice and focus on treating immune disorders, autoimmune diseases, immunodeficiencies, etc.

What is the best major for an allergist?

Medical schools don’t have any specific degree major requirements. However, we recommend earning a degree in a science-related field or a pre-med program, as these programs provide a solid foundation in the sciences necessary to succeed in medical school.

Is it hard to be an allergist?

While a career as an allergist is filled with benefits, there are challenges to being one. Becoming an allergist requires intensive education and training lasting over a decade. Moreover, this profession requires ongoing education and professional development.

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