Immunologists study how the body’s defence system (the immune system) functions and treat patients with immune system disorders.

You’ll provide support for the diagnosis and management of conditions such as HIV, multiple sclerosis and tuberculosis. 

Life as an immunologist

Your work will be a mixture of clinical and laboratory duties. Your clinical work will be mainly with outpatients and will involve diagnosing immunodeficiency (diseases where part of the immune system is missing or doesn’t function properly), allergies and autoimmune disorders (where the immune system attacks itself) such as rheumatoid arthritis.
You’ll treat patients with drugs to suppress the immune system, intravenous therapies for antibody replacement and desensitisation immunotherapy (giving gradually increasing doses of allergen extracts by injection, drops or tablets).
Your laboratory work will underpin clinical work on immunological diseases, and you’ll be involved in the interpretation and validation of results and quality assurance. You could also be one of a small number of immunologists providing laboratory support for organ transplants, to minimise rejection of transplanted organs in patients.
You’ll work regular hours but will often provide out of hours telephone advice on laboratory and clinical matters to other doctors.

How much can I earn?

You’ll first earn a salary when you start your foundation training after medical school. The basic salary ranges from £32,398 to £37,303. Once you start your specialty training in the NHS, you can expect to earn a salary of at least £43,923, which can increase to between £93,666 and £126,281 as a consultant.

How about the benefits?

  • make a difference
  • flexible and part-time working
  • high income early in your career
  • work anywhere in the world
  • excellent pension scheme
  • good holiday entitlement
  • NHS discounts in shops and restaurants

Must-have skills

  • excellent communication skills to manage a wide range of relationships with colleagues, and patients and their families
  • emotional resilience, a calm temperament and the ability to work well under pressure
  • teamwork and the capacity to lead multidisciplinary teams
  • problem-solving and diagnostic skills
  • outstanding organisational ability and effective decision-making skills
  • first-class time and resource management for the benefit of patients

Entry requirements

Your first step is medical school. Typically, you’ll need excellent GCSEs and three A or A* passes at A level including chemistry for a five-year undergraduate degree in medicine. Many medical schools also ask for biology and others may require maths or physics.

If you already have a degree, you could study for a four-year postgraduate degree in medicine. 

You’ll need to pass an interview and admissions test. You’ll be asked to show how you demonstrate the NHS values such as compassion and respect.

Some medical schools look to recruit a mix of students from different backgrounds and geographical areas, so your educational and economic background and family circumstances could be considered as part of your application. 

What are my chances of starting a career in immunology?

There are currently 83 immunology consultants working in the NHS in England. In 2021, there were 33 applications for six immunology specialty training places.

How to become an immunologist

After medical school, you’ll join the paid two-year foundation programme where you’ll work in six placements in different settings.

After your foundation programme, you can apply for paid specialty training to become an immunologist, which will take a minimum of seven years. 

You may be able to train part time, for example for health reasons or if you have family or caring responsibilities.

Where a career as a doctor in immunology can take you

You could: 
  • specialise or conduct research in areas such as rheumatology, HIV medicine or transplantation
  • teach medical students or postgraduate students in training
  • get involved in research at universities, the NHS or private sector

Other roles that may interest you

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