Purpose and Mission
An infectious diseases specialist is an expert in pathogens – the bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that enter the human body and cause disease. Given that one of the biggest risks with infectious diseases is their ability to spread quickly, a specialist is concerned, not only with his/her individual patients, but also with entire communities.
The widespread impact of infectious diseases means that specialists have a choice of career paths. While some work in clinics or hospitals, others decide to focus on laboratory work and others still go into public health, creating and implementing policy at local, national and even international levels.
The first step is a medical degree. This may be taken as a 5-6 year double degree, known as the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) or as a 4-year general entry degree, which is undertaken following the completion of a bachelor degree in any field. Once qualified, the graduate trains at a hospital for at least twelve months.
The next stage involves advanced training, for which there are two options. The first takes 3 years and leads to a single fellowship at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (FRACP). The second covers both infectious diseases and microbiology, leading to a dual fellowship – one at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (FRACP) and the other at theRoyal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA).
Steps for Becoming an Infectious Diseases Specialist in Australia
Refer to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) for more information.
All doctors who wish to practise in Australia must be registered with the Medical Board of Australia (MBA) and with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).This applies to both Australian-trained and internationally-trained doctors.
A general medicine specialist in infectious diseases is expected to develop and maintain an exceptional level of knowledge of the field. This will be established during training, but afterwards the specialist must continue to study independently, keeping up with new developments and attending relevant courses and conferences. Brand new pathogens, as well as new strains of old pathogens, pop up on a frequent basis, so there is always new information to absorb. Furthermore, treatments are advancing at a rapid rate.
Many infectious diseases can make their patients extremely ill – or even kill them – within days or even hours. Meningitis, for example, can cause death within 12 hours. So a specialist in infectious diseases must be good at making quick and accurate decisions and must have the ability to work under pressure. He/she must also have a thorough understanding of how the whole body works (as opposed to specific organs) because pathogens often have an impact on entire systems.
Specialists who decide to focus on microbiology and work in a laboratory must have meticulous research skills, while those who opt for public health must be excellent communicators and be able to consider an issue from a wide range of perspectives.