Epidemiologists are scientists who study threats to public health, from infectious diseases to bioterrorism. They research disease and injury outbreaks to identify patterns and causes, with the goal of educating the public and influencing public health policy in order to decrease the risks and the total number of cases of the disease. Epidemiologists conduct studies of public health problems to gather various types of data, ranging from blood samples of infected patients to interviews and surveys that provide accounts of disease progression and spread. They analyze this information to determine if there are any patterns with regards to who gets a disease, who survives the illness, and what treatments appear to be effective. Epidemiologists present their findings to a wide audience that extends beyond the scientific community and includes the public and public policymakers as well as medical providers. They may also oversee public health education programs.
Epidemiologists find work in virtually all areas of public health including chronic diseases, infectious diseases, oral health, injuries, substance abuse, maternal and child health, occupational health, environmental health and bioterrorism. A wide variety of work environments employ epidemiologists, from government agencies to academic institutions and from private health insurance companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers to nonprofit organizations that advocate for public health.
To become an epidemiologist, candidates need a graduate-level college education. Accredited master’s degree programs in epidemiology or public health typically include coursework in statistics, mathematics, biological and physical sciences, medical informatics and, naturally, public health. Students will learn a wide range of skills, from how to design a successful survey to how to analyze possible causes. They study statistical methods, learn about the similarities and differences between an array of healthcare systems, review existing biomedical research and discover practical application of data collected through research. Often, students gain hands-on experience in the field through an internship.
Some epidemiologists hold even more advanced degrees. For example, those who manage research projects may earn a Ph.D., while those who work in clinical capacities may go to medical school as well as earning their master’s degree in public health or epidemiology.
Epidemiologists earn a median salary of $65,270 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Those who work in certain industries have an even higher earning potential. In hospitals, epidemiologists earn a median annual salary of $73,810, while the median wage for those in research and development posts is $92,070 per year. Opportunities in the field of epidemiology should increase by 10 percent over a decade, which is about the same rate of job growth the BLS predicts for all occupations. Prospects should be best for candidates who are willing to consider work in any specialty of disease rather than those who are committed to working in one particular specialty.
Epidemiologists are public health professionals who research the causes and patterns of diseases and other public health threats. They work in government, academic, corporate and nonprofit roles and seek to better understand threats to public health and, where possible, to minimize public health risks.