What Is Epidemiology?

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

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Tracking Public Health to Advance Awareness and Treatment

Did you ever think about being a detective? An epidemiologist is a detective of the medical kind, looking for clues and trying to solve mysteries about diseases, injuries and disorders. Epidemiology is a medical science in which data is gathered and analyzed to determine trends that help professionals in the healthcare industries develop prevention and treatment strategies. Although most epidemiologists work full-time, they typically enjoy a regular work schedule that enables them to balance their careers and families.

Job Description

Epidemiologists work in offices and laboratories. They are typically employed by hospitals, colleges and universities, and health departments that operate at state and local levels.

They plan and direct studies of public health problems. They collect data through various means, including direct observation, surveys, interviews and laboratory tests of bodily fluids.

Epidemiologists use biostatistics, which is the application of statistical methods to data collected on living organisms. They analyze results, help determine at-risk populations and work with healthcare professionals to diagnose illness and injuries and implement preventive measures where possible.

Education Requirements

Few colleges or universities offer an undergraduate degree in epidemiology. It might be possible to get a position as a laboratory technician or assistant with an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as biology or microbiology. Most positions require a minimum of a master's degree in epidemiology, which is at least two years of specialized study beyond the bachelor's degree.

Epidemiologists often begin by earning a master's degree in public health with a concentration or focus in epidemiology. Some programs offer the option to specialize in a subfield such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, genetics or environmental causes of illness. Most degree programs require that students complete an internship or practicum, which can be up to a year in length.

Earning a doctorate in epidemiology requires at least three years of specialized study and a dissertation, which is written based on original research in a student's chosen subfield. Some epidemiologists earn a medical degree. With a doctorate in epidemiology, there are more opportunities to head research studies, direct laboratories and teach at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

About the Industry

Epidemiologists work in offices and laboratories in hospitals, academic institutions and state and local health departments. At the federal level, epidemiologists are employed by agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Through their research and findings, epidemiologists help educate the public about health risks, disease, treatment options and prevention strategies. Their work helps shape public policy.

Years of Experience

The median pay for an epidemiologist is $74,560, meaning half of those in the field earn more while half earn less. Geographic location plays a big role in determining job opportunities, as do education, field of expertise and years of experience. Here are some typical salary ranges:

  • Less than one year of experience: $81,890 to $89,733
  • 10 to 14 years of experience: $90,713 to $100,252
  • 15 to 19 years of experience: $92,086 to $102,429
  • 20+ years of experience: up to $110,323

Job Growth Trend

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that job growth in epidemiology will be 30 percent through 2030, which is about average compared with all other occupations. Demand is dependent in part on research funding, which usually comes from a combination of government and private sources.