Doctors who investigate diseases and viruses are called infectious disease physicians, sometimes shortened to ID physicians. Many ID physicians specialize in the investigation and treatment of HIV and AIDS, and are sometimes referred to as ID/HIV physicians. They are typically employed by hospitals or other health-care organizations, or work out of independent or group medical practices.
To become an infectious disease specialist, an individual needs over a decade of education and training. Candidates must first attend an undergraduate bachelor's degree program with a concentration in pre-med. After graduating with a bachelor's, aspiring ID physicians must complete four years of medical school, and then complete the three years of residency required to become a general internist. After becoming licensed as a general practitioner of internal medicine, another two to three years of specialized training is required before a doctor becomes licensed as an infectious disease physician.
Infectious disease physicians are specialists, and usually only see patients referred to them by a primary care doctor. They treat several types of patients, such as those who have an infection that is difficult to diagnose, otherwise healthy adults planning to travel to a part of the world where infectious diseases are prevalent, or a patient who has contracted a chronic illness such as HIV. Depending on the case, an ID physician may order blood work or other tests to diagnose a patient's condition, order vaccinations in preparation for possible exposure, or treat infected patients with antibiotics or other drugs.
According to Medscape, infectious disease specialists earned an average salary of $170,000 per year as of 2012. Those who owned their own solo practices earned the most, an average of $225,000 per year, while ID specialists working out of multispecialty group practices earned an average of $223,000 per year. ID specialists employed by hospitals earned an average of $170,000 per year, and those employed by outpatient clinics reported an average annual salary of $132,000.
Shortages are predicted for many types of physician specialists over the coming decades, and infectious disease specialists are no exception. According to the University of California at San Francisco, ID physicians who specialize in the treatment of HIV/AIDS can expect to be in especially high demand, because a large number of current practitioners are set to retire over the next decade. ID specialists looking for a job can find help through the Infectious Diseases Society of America jobs board.