Epidemiologists held about 5,100 jobs in 2012. Work environments can vary widely because of the diverse nature of epidemiological specializations. Epidemiologists work in offices and laboratories usually at health departments for state and local governments, in hospitals, and at colleges and universities. They may work in the field.
Most research epidemiologists spend their time studying data and reports in an office setting. Work in laboratories and the field tends to be delegated to specialized scientists and other technical staff. In state and local government public health departments, epidemiologists may be more active in the community and may travel a significant amount to support community education efforts or to administer studies and surveys.
Modern science has greatly reduced the amount of infectious disease in developed countries. Infectious disease epidemiologists are more likely to travel to remote areas and developing nations in order to carry out their studies. Epidemiologists have minimal risk when they work in laboratories or in the field, because they take extensive precautions before interacting with samples or patients.
In 2012, 52 percent of epidemiologists worked for state and local governments, excluding education and hospitals. Other epidemiologists worked for hospitals; colleges and universities; life science research and development; management, scientific, and technical consulting services; and pharmaceutical companies.
Most epidemiologists work full time and have a standard work schedule. Occasionally, epidemiologists may have to work long or irregular hours in order to complete fieldwork or tend to duties during public health emergencies.
Epidemiologists need at least a master’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution. Most have a master’s degree in epidemiology or a related public health field. Some epidemiologists have a Ph.D.
Epidemiologists need at least a master’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution. A master’s degree in public health, with an emphasis in epidemiology is most common, but epidemiologists can earn degrees in a wide range of related fields and specializations. Epidemiologists who direct research projects—including those who work as postsecondary teachers in colleges and universities—have a Ph.D. in their chosen field.
Coursework in epidemiology includes public health, biological and physical sciences, and math and statistics. Classes emphasize statistical methods, causal analysis, and survey design. Advanced courses emphasize multiple regression, medical informatics, review of previous biomedical research, comparisons of healthcare systems, and practical applications of data.
Many Master’s of Public Health programs and other programs that are specific to epidemiology require students to complete an internship or practicum that typically ranges from a semester to a year.
Some epidemiologists have a degree in epidemiology and a medical degree. These scientists often work in clinical capacities. In medical school, students spend most of the first 2 years in laboratories and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, pathology, medical ethics, and laws governing medicine. They also learn to take medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses.
Epidemiologists typically have an interest in the Thinking and Helping interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people.
If you are not sure whether you have a Thinking or Helping interest which might fit with a career as an epidemiologist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Epidemiologists should also possess the following specific qualities:
Communication skills. Epidemiologists must use their speaking and writing skills to inform the public and community leaders of public health risks. Clear communication is also required to work effectively with other health professionals.
Critical-thinking skills. Epidemiologists analyze data to determine how best to respond to a public health problem or an urgent health-related emergency.
Detail oriented. Epidemiologists must be precise and accurate in moving from observation and interview to conclusions.
Math and statistical skills. Epidemiologists may need advanced statistical skills when designing and administering studies and surveys. Skill in using large databases and statistical computer programs may also be important.
Teaching skills. Epidemiologists may be involved in community outreach activities that educate the public about health risks and healthy living.
The median annual wage for epidemiologists was $65,270 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,620, and the top 10 percent earned more than $108,320.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for epidemiologists in the top four industries employing these scientists were as follows:
|Research and development in the physical, engineering,
and life sciences
|General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state,
local, and private
|State and local government, excluding education and
Most epidemiologists work full time and have a standard work schedule. Occasionally, epidemiologists will have to work long or irregular hours in order to complete fieldwork or tend to duties during public health emergencies.
Employment of epidemiologists is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Continued improvements in medical record-keeping will further improve epidemiologists’ ability to track health outcomes, demographic data, and other useful data. Improvements in statistical and mapping software will improve analysis, make epidemiological data more useful, and increase demand for epidemiologists.
Demand for epidemiologists is expected to be strong in state and local governments over the next 10 years, but uncertain budgetary conditions are likely to moderate growth.
There has been an increase in the interest of public health and epidemiology over the past decade. The number of master of public health programs specializing in epidemiology and the number of graduates from these programs has increased. Some entrants are finding strong competition for jobs, but applicants who are willing to work in any of the various specialties found in this occupation, rather than those tied to one specialty, rarely have trouble finding work. Because epidemiology is a diverse field, opportunities can generally be found if one takes a broad view.
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