Difference Between Rheumatologist & Immunologist

Those considering a career as a medical doctor will find there are a lot of different areas they can specialize in. This article explores two of these specialized professions, rheumatologist and immunologist, by comparing job duties, education requirements, and income earned.

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Comparing Rheumatologists to Immunologists

Rheumatologists and immunologists are medical doctors that work with patients to relieve medical ailments. Rheumatologists specialize in treating patients with musculoskeletal issues, while immunologists focus on treatments for people with allergies. Rheumatologists primarily spend their time treating patients, while immunologists may focus more time on researching patient specific treatments.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Outlook (2014-2024)**
Rheumatologists Medical Degree $206,983 15% (for physicians and surgeons, all other)
Immunologists Medical Degree $174,319 15% (for physicians and surgeons, all other)

Sources: *PayScale.com; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Rheumatologists vs. Immunologists

Both rheumatologists and immunologists may see patients and discuss their symptoms with them. Rheumatologists primarily diagnose and treat their patients. Immunologists may exclusively focus on research and work on developing new ways to counteract allergic reactions. Rheumatologists may also send patients for additional medical tests, but immunologists who see patients may administer tests themselves to determine the source of an allergic reaction. Immunologist may also work with individuals or facility managers to help them reduce the risk of exposure to allergens.


As specialized medical doctors in rheumatology, rheumatologists must have a medical degree, attend a three-year residency, and obtain a license to practice. As part of their training they must complete fellowship requirements to specialize in this field, which takes two to three years to complete beyond their residency. Rheumatologists focus on patients who have musculoskeletal problems, such as osteoporosis or arthritis. As medical specialists, it's common for them to work in an office or hospital. They need to be detailed in their work, stay current with changes in their field, and be able to communicate with patients and other medical professionals effectively in order to be successful in their field.

Job responsibilities of a rheumatologist include:

  • Reviewing medical files
  • Assessing patients
  • Referring patients for tests
  • Diagnosing patients
  • Educating patients about their condition
  • Determining how to treat patients


Immunologists may also be known as allergist-immunologists. Their focus is on patients who have allergic reactions and diseases, and researching ways to treat patients through immunizations. They are medical doctors, and must have a medical degree and certification, and must also complete residency requirements to prepare to specialize in immunology. They typically work during the day at hospitals or in medical offices, although working during the evenings may be necessary for those employed at hospitals.

Job responsibilities of an immunologist include:

  • Performing medical tests
  • Reviewing patient records and other medical data
  • Assessing test results
  • Conducting research on treatments
  • Determining the most effective way to treat an allergy
  • Advising people about how to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction

Related Careers

Aspiring rheumatologists may also be interested in physical therapy, since physical therapists help people with mobility issues. It's possible that becoming a medical laboratory scientist will interest those thinking about immunology, since medical laboratory scientists also perform medical research and help find ways to treat medical issues.

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