How Do I Become an Epidemiologist?

Explore the career requirements for epidemiologists. Get the facts about education requirements, job duties, salary and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Epidemiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Epidemiologist?

Epidemiologists study the causes and spread of disease in order to improve public health, provide public health education and help the government protect the public from threats to health. This involves planning and overseeing public health studies, and then analyzing data collected from body samples, interviews or surveys. Epidemiologists then release their data and results to the public and health officials. They oversee various personnel as they organize and monitor public health programs to educate the public. Epidemiologists may specialize in a particular area of public health, such as infectious diseases or occupational health. The chart below gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Master's for public health career; PhD for research
Education Field of Study Epidemiology
Key Responsibilities Lab research, outbreak investigation, data analysis, public health education
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6%*
Average Salary (2015) $76,900*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Education Will I Need To Work As An Epidemiologist?

As a prospective epidemiologist, you must complete a master's or PhD degree in epidemiology, depending on your career track. Since epidemiology degree programs are multidisciplinary, courses cover a variety of topics, such as biology, genetics, statistics, sociology, public policy and others. While both degrees involve research, a master's degree program tends to be more career-oriented, while a PhD program focuses extensively on research opportunities in the field.

No matter what program you pursue, you should choose a research topic in a growing area. Some of the most common research topics include chronic and infectious diseases, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Where Will I Work?

Epidemiologist work in a variety of environments, including hospitals, health care centers, university laboratories, public health schools, and government research organizations, such the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. You may work in an office analyzing various data, perform tests in a laboratory, or educate the public in academic and hospital settings.

What Will I Do?

As an epidemiologist, you perform research in laboratories, investigate outbreaks of new diseases, and educate individuals about the harmful factors that influence personal health. The government hires epidemiologists to study factors that have influenced public health. This is a chance for you to help improve the government's responses to health threats. You may also have to identify the responsibilities and role of local health departments in communities.

How Much Will I Earn?

In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average annual income for epidemiologists was $76,900 (www.bls.gov). The top paying jobs were in outpatient care centers, with an average yearly wage of $112,210. Overall, jobs in this field are expected to increase 6% between 2014 and 2024, which is about as fast as the average for all U.S. occupations. In 2015, the highest levels of employment were with state and local governments, and this demand is expected to continue through the 2014-2024 decade.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A couple alternative careers that require a master's degree are political scientists and survey researchers. Political scientists study political systems and how they were created and implemented. Survey researchers create surveys and then analyze the results of their surveys to gauge things like public opinion or beliefs. A similar career that requires a doctoral or professional degree is a medical scientist. These professionals work to improve human health, like epidemiologists, but do so through research and clinical trials.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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