Epidemiologists save lives by studying diseases within populations, according to Public Health Online. They monitor disease outbreaks, discern their causes and develop protocols to treat these diseases and prevent future outbreaks. An epidemiologist’s day-to-day job typically consists of data gathering and analysis, clinical research, presentation of findings both to peers and to the public, and the development of improved methodology for conducting necessary epidemiological research.
Although advances in medical technology have decreased the effects that some diseases have on the modern population, outbreaks of diseases like Zika and West Nile viruses, as well as the resurgence of once-eradicated diseases like measles, continue to make epidemiological research necessary.
Becoming an Epidemiologist
A prospective epidemiologist needs a strong foundation in math and science, particularly life sciences and statistics. Epidemiologists often work with computer models, so computer skills are important. Communication and writing skills are necessary for epidemiologists who must share their research and speak with the public. A background in behavioral science can be helpful, as well.
A graduate degree is almost always necessary for a job in epidemiology, in particular a Master of Public Health or a Master of Science in Epidemiology. For both graduate and undergraduate education, strong academic performance is necessary, and prospective epidemiologists should decide what area of epidemiology they want to pursue and take courses to help achieve that goal.
Though a Ph.D. is not required for all epidemiologists, those interested in research will find such a degree helpful, and some epidemiologists may also want to pursue a medical degree.
Jobs for Epidemiologists
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for epidemiologists is about average across the United States. As medical technology and statistics-taking techniques improve, epidemiologists will be in higher demand; however, this may be counteracted somewhat by budgetary constraints in state and local government, where epidemiological growth is expected to be strongest.
Competition for jobs in epidemiology is strong at the moment, making it difficult to find jobs within a particular specialty. But those students who show flexibility among different epidemiological specialties have an easier time finding jobs, so focusing on a breadth of knowledge could create a valuable and in-demand skill set.
Of note are three specific high-growth subfields of epidemiology, as reported in Public Health Online.
Survey researchers are responsible for designing surveys and analyzing the data that such surveys produce. They are a key component in discovering how a disease moves through a population and affects it. Survey researchers have an expected job growth of 18 percent by 2022.
Statisticians collect and analyze data and present results in order to better understand a particular problem. While this is important in epidemiology, a graduate skilled with statistical research and analysis can also find work in related fields, such as politics or business. Growth among statisticians is expected to be 27 percent by 2022.
Community Health Workers
Those interested in implementing public health strategies can become community health workers. Such people work with health record data, collecting it and analyzing it, and ensuring the correct and effective implementation of health programs. Job growth among community health workers is expected to be 21 percent by 2022.
According to the BLS, the median salary for an epidemiologist is $69,450. Those in the lowest 10 percent of earners make $46,130, while those in the top 10 percent make $114,550. Epidemiologists working in research and development or in hospitals make more than the median.
Survey researchers have a median salary of $47,720; statisticians’ median salary is $79,290; and community health workers make a median salary of $34,610.
Public Health Education
Those interested in becoming an epidemiologist will need the appropriate education. Rivier University offers an online public health master’s degree that can be an important component of that education. An online public health undergraduate degree can help pave the way to a master’s, and the two together create a foundation on which to build a career in epidemiology. Learn in a dynamic, flexible environment that fits into your schedule and supports your professional goals.