Choosing Your Medical Specialty: Allergy and Immunology

October 18, 2021 | Claire Gagne


There are many possibilities when it comes to choosing your medical specialization and there's a lot to consider.

medical professional arm in page prepping for needle

The “Choosing Your Medical Specialty" series will help you learn more about each specialty and explore which one best matches your values, interests, and abilities.

Allergists and Clinical Immunologists are in high demand — up to 40% of the Canadian population will be affected by an allergic disease at some point in their lives, says Dr. Anne Ellis, a board-certified allergist and immunologist in Kingston, Ont. Here's what you need to know if you are considering specializing in allergy and immunology.

A typical day for an allergist / immunologist

Most allergists work in community based-clinics where they see patients who come to them for a variety of suspected allergic reactions or other health concerns — like chronic hives or swelling of the skin. Some allergy / immunology specialists also work in hospitals, while others do research. Dr. Ellis, for example, devotes 70% of her time to research where she conducts clinical trials on new therapies as well as researching the origins of allergic diseases and disorders. When she's not doing research, she works in an allergy clinic, seeing patients with conditions like allergic rhinitis, asthma, food allergies, drug allergies, venom allergies or possible immunodeficiencies. In the course of the day an allergist might do skin prick testing (also called puncture or scratch tests) to diagnose allergies and then prescribe medications to treat these conditions. Many allergists also offer immunotherapy (allergy shots) to treat environmental allergens like pollen and stinging inset allergens like wasps. Some offer oral immunotherapy to food. While all board-certified allergists / immunologists are trained in both allergic and immunologic diseases, many doctors choose to focus their specialization on allergic conditions, explains Dr. Ellis.

Who is the best fit for allergy / immunology?

Because people tend to come to an allergist with a history of symptoms (rather than presenting with symptoms at the moment) being an allergist can require some 'detective work.' "You need to be willing to ask a lot of questions and be empathetic," she says. At the same time, allergists don't perform as many medical procedures as other specializations. "If you really want to be hands-on with interventions, it may not be the best fit," says Dr. Ellis.

Is being an allergist rewarding?

Being an allergist can be hugely rewarding according to Dr. Ellis. "Our diagnostic tools give us almost immediate answers — skin testing only takes 15 minutes. And we have lots of highly effective therapies to offer our patients. Our patients for the most part get better after they see us, which is hugely rewarding." There have also been many recent advances that help treat allergic conditions. "We have so many new immunotherapy formulations and biologic treatments now that are effective for managing everything from hay fever to asthma to atopic dermatitis to nasal polyps," says Dr. Ellis. " It's a great time to be an allergist."

How much does an allergist make per year in Canada?

Allergy/immunology is one of the most in-demand specializations in Canada. The average gross salary (before expenses) of an allergist is $404,000/year.

What does it take to become an allergist/immunologist?

To become an allergist / immunologist you need to complete medical school, then you'll undergo at least three years of training in either internal medicine or pediatrics. After that, you'll need to complete a two-year allergy and immunology subspecialty program. If you're interested in allergy / immunology, Dr. Ellis says, "Don't hesitate to reach out to the allergists in your area — we welcome observerships and sharing our passion with students."

Additional resource:

Canadian Medical Association – Clinical Immunology/Allergy Profile

Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada – Clinical Immunology and Allergy training experiences

The Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI)

Read related stories:

Choosing Your Medical Specialty: Anatomical Pathology (Podcast)

Choosing Your Medical Specialty: Anesthesiology

Choosing Your Medical Specialty: Internal Medicine [Podcast]

What to Consider When Choosing a Medical Specialty

This article originally appeared on the RBC Healthcare - Advice & Learning