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Immunologist vs. Rheumatologist: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

There are many different medical specialties that focus on diagnosing and treating conditions related to the immune system. Two of these specialties are immunology and rheumatology. Though these two fields share some similarities, there are also several key differences between them.

In this article, we will discuss the similarities and differences between immunologists and rheumatologists. We will also provide an overview of the training and education required for each profession.

What is an Immunologist?

Immunologists are medical doctors who study the immune system and the body’s ability to fight off infection and disease. They often work in research laboratories to develop new ways to diagnose and treat autoimmune diseases, allergies and cancer. Immunologists also work in hospitals and clinics, where they treat patients with these conditions. In some cases, they may also work with people who have had organ transplants to ensure their bodies do not reject the new organ. Immunologists use a variety of techniques, including blood tests and biopsies, to diagnose patients. They also use these techniques to monitor the progress of patients’ conditions and to assess the effectiveness of treatments.

What is a Rheumatologist?

Rheumatologists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect the joints and muscles. Rheumatologists often treat patients with arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune diseases. They also treat patients with back pain, tendonitis and other musculoskeletal conditions. Rheumatologists use a variety of diagnostic tools, including blood tests, X-rays and MRIs, to identify the cause of a patient’s pain. They then develop a treatment plan that may include medication, physical therapy or surgery. Rheumatologists also provide education and support to patients and their families to help them better manage their condition.

Immunologist vs. Rheumatologist

Here are the main differences between an immunologist and a rheumatologist.

Job Duties

Both immunologists and rheumatologists perform a variety of job duties. They both study the immune system, but in different ways. An immunologist studies how the immune system functions normally and what happens when it malfunctions. They conduct research and develop theories about the immune system.

Rheumatologists focus on diagnosing and treating diseases that affect the joints, muscles, bones and connective tissues. They may also treat patients with disorders related to the immune system. Rheumatologists may perform diagnostic tests like X-rays or MRIs and prescribe medications. They also may refer patients to other medical professionals for additional treatment.

Job Requirements

Rheumatologists and immunologists must first complete a four-year undergraduate degree in a relevant field, such as biology or chemistry. They then attend medical school for four years and complete a residency program, which lasts three to seven years. After completing their training, they must obtain licensure from the state they plan to practice in and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Some rheumatologists and immunologists also choose to pursue fellowships, which are additional training programs that last one to two years.

Work Environment

Immunologists and rheumatologists work in different environments. Immunologists typically work in laboratories, where they perform tests on blood samples to determine the presence of antibodies or other markers that indicate a patient has an immune system disorder. They may also work in hospitals, where they can treat patients with autoimmune disorders.

Rheumatologists usually work in medical offices, where they provide care for patients who have arthritis, lupus or another type of joint disease. Some rheumatologists may work in outpatient clinics, which are facilities that offer treatment without requiring hospitalization.


Both immunologists and rheumatologists use several similar skills in their jobs, such as critical thinking, active listening and complex problem solving. Both also need to have excellent communication skills to interact with patients, families and other healthcare professionals.

However, there are some differences in the specific skills each of these professionals uses on the job. For example, immunologists often use laboratory skills when conducting research or testing samples. They may also use microscopes to examine cells and tissues. Rheumatologists, on the other hand, often use diagnostic imaging skills, such as X-rays and MRIs, to diagnose conditions. They may also use physical examination skills to assess a patient’s range of motion and identify any joint swelling or deformities.


Immunologists can earn an average salary of $127,207 per year, while rheumatologists can earn an average salary of $227,663 per year. The average salaries for both of these positions may vary depending on the location of the job, the size of the company and the level of experience the professional has.


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