What are epidemiologists? Discover the path to a career in epidemiology and public health...
Epidemiologists are experts in health at the population level. They analyze health data and help determine how emergencies are responded to and how they are prevented.
There are two main types of epidemiologist: those who conduct research and those who put knowledge to practical use. Applied epidemiologists work in many settings. Governmental agencies are among the largest employers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is one well-known agency. The National Center for Health Statistics, the World Health Organization, and the National Institutes of Health also hire experts to analyze health at the population level. State departments of health also employ a lot of epidemiologists. Other epidemiologists are employed at hospitals, developing policies for prevention and management of disease outbreaks.
Become an Epidemiologist
- Career Plan: How to Become an Epidemiologist
- Schools offering: Masters in Public Health - Epidemiology programs
- Schools offering: Health, Science or Math programs - Undergraduate
What are the duties of an epidemiologist?
One frequent duty is to monitor and analyze data related to outbreaks of infectious disease. Sometimes epidemiologists study other types of diseases, for example, cancer. They may also work in areas like family planning or violence prevention. Epidemiologists do more than crunch numbers. They may apply for grants, act as educators and advocates, and carry out other public health duties. Research epidemiologists, meanwhile, find ways to prevent outbreaks from happening. While epidemiologists themselves are generally not public policy makers, their work can be instrumental in shaping policy and determining how dollars will be spent. Among the duties are communicating findings and making recommendations.
Required Education for Epidemiologists
Epidemiologists generally have education at the master’s level. Some research positions favor those with a PhD. O*Net, a governmental site, reports that 67% of survey respondents hold master’s degrees, 30% have doctorate level education, and just 3% are working with a bachelor’s. Programs are often quite competitive. Some programs stipulate what undergraduate majors are acceptable (for example, health, science, or statistics). GPA, GRE scores, health care experience, and research may all be factors.
Epidemiology programs are often found in schools of public health. Typical courses include biostatistics, research methodologies, and statistical inference. Students will learn different methods for data analysis (confounding, effect modification) and how to apply it in public health arenas. They will also learn about human health.
Students may have the option to specialize in an area of interest, for example, occupational and environmental epidemiology, maternal and child health, health services and economics, or molecular epidemiology. This will go a long way in determining coursework. Epidemiologists may be asked to complete a capstone project in their area of interest.
While epidemiology is not a licensed profession, some specialists who work in infection control and prevention do choose to become board certified.
Epidemiologist Salary and Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an average salary of $32.83 an hour or $68,280 a year for epidemiologists in May of 2010. Pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing companies paid far above the norm ($104,470), but employed relatively few workers (330). The two largest employers – federal and state government – paid a little below the average, while hospitals and outpatient care facilities paid more. (This is somewhat of a contrast to many other health occupations, where the federal government is among the most lucrative employers.) Some states have a far higher concentration of epidemiologists than others. Massachusetts is not only the highest paying state, but employs the most workers. Wyoming, Washington, Utah, and Connecticut also have a relatively high number of epidemiologists. Wage leaders tend to be clustered on the east and west coast and near the Great Lakes.
The BLS has noted that some states have reported shortages in qualified workers, and has predicted that the U.S. as a whole will see 15% rise in demand for epidemiologists over the course of the 2008 to 2018 decade. The reasons? Increased awareness of disease and of the possibility of bioterrorism.
To learn more about becoming an epidemiologist, you may wish to explore schools that offer degrees in public health. You may also be interested in learning more about the certification process for epidemiologists across the country or, if you are still trying to determine the right career choice, take some time to explore additional careers in health care.