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Epidemiology is the study of how frequently disease occurs in a population and why this is so. To perform their job, epidemiologists must be highly trained in math and the biological and health sciences. A strong background in chemistry and English is also helpful, as is developing characteristics suited to this career. This combination of skills and characteristics results in epidemiologists being well suited to employment with universities, governmental agencies, international organizations and private corporations.
Epidemiologists must be analytical. An integral portion of their job includes collecting data on entire populations, developing hypotheses related to this data, testing these hypotheses, comparing data with other populations and then analyzing the data to determine the best way to treat the disease and prevent any future recurrences. Epidemiologists must be able to analyze data from a variety of study types, such as cohort and case-control studies.
Epidemiologists must be detail-oriented. They spend a significant amount of time counting incidence cases, studying trends and details of disease and injuries, and comparing the data they uncover with other data. The slightest detail can provide clues as to what's causing a disease and the best treatment to prescribe or the best way to prevent future occurrences.
Though epidemiologists focus on disease in populations, it's not uncommon for them to find themselves interviewing and working with individuals, and the family of individuals, who are very ill. In these situations, it is important for the epidemiologist to be socially pleasant and aware in order to effectively elicit the information he needs. People respond positively to a good bedside manner.
It is essential that epidemiologists have good communication skills. They need to be able to communicate with coworkers, the agency they serve, other agencies working on current projects and individuals they find themselves interviewing. They also must be able to write technical reports, scientific articles and grants. It is also not uncommon for epidemiologists to make reports to the media and the public. Some epidemiologists lecture on health and illness and provide educational materials for public use.
Epidemiologists must be organized. Between keeping track of numerous details relating to health and disease, interpreting and analyzing data, managing projects, working with a variety of individuals and agencies, creating solutions and making reports on their findings, the epidemiologist's average week is a very busy one.
Epidemiologists must be educated. Epidemiologists usually have bachelor's degrees in a science (such as biology), though they may also have a degrees in the health sciences, math or social sciences. They also usually have master's degrees in epidemiology or public health with a focus on epidemiology; many epidemiologists also have a Ph.Ds in epidemiology.
Marguerite Lance has been a professional writer for seven years and has written for museums, hospitals, non-profit agencies, governmental agencies and telecommunication companies. Her specialties include nutrition, dietetics and women's and children's health issues. Lance received a Bachelor of Arts in biological anthropology from Idaho State University.