Epidemiologists are medical professionals who study diseases, their causes, and how to prevent, control, and treat them. They also commonly study ways to minimize the risk of disease outbreaks or how best to manage individuals or populations during an outbreak. Though there are various types of epidemiologists, all of them play a fundamental role in public health.
Epidemiologists commonly study broad issues, such as the spread of all infectious diseases across the globe or the possible environmental contributors that may be responsible for cancer clusters. They may also focus on specific issues that are relevant to specific segments of the population, such as women’s health or children’s health.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be an epidemiologist and what it takes to become one yourself.
Epidemiologist Job Duties
Epidemiologists perform a wide range of duties, including:
- Conducting disease surveillance to identify and track the spread of diseases in communities
- Tracking birth and death records to help determine common health risks in different populations
- Designing studies that investigate the frequency and causes of specific diseases or other health risks in groups or communities
- Evaluating community needs to identify potential health problems and prioritize responses based on available resources
- Studying risk factors for diseases such as family history, lifestyle choices, environmental exposure, and medications
- Providing scientific consultation for other healthcare workers involved in disease prevention and treatment
- Communicating with public health officials about disease risk factors and prevention methods
- Using computer software to analyze data, utilizing complex statistical tests and formulas
- Providing expert testimony in court about epidemiological evidence
Epidemiologist Salary & Outlook
The median annual wage for epidemiologists is $80,561. Those earning higher wages tend to work in hospitals, and the top earners of the profession are making over $121,000 per year.
The employment of epidemiologists is projected to grow faster than average over the next decade. The growing number of elderly individuals will mean a greater need for disease-prevention efforts, as well as a greater need for research into new treatments.
Epidemiologist Job Requirements
It takes a considerable number of skills and qualifications to become an epidemiologist. They include:
Education: Most employers require an epidemiologist to have a master’s degree in public health, medicine, or another health-related field. Courses may include vaccination strategies, disease transmission, infectious diseases, medical ethics, and crisis management.
Training: New epidemiologists gain on-the-job training with an organization via a fellowship. This training often includes shadowing the area’s chief epidemiologist for several weeks or months. During this time, new employees can learn about the organization’s specific needs and gain valuable experience in their role.
Certifications: While not required for all employers, epidemiologists may obtain board certification in one or more areas of public health. The Certification Board for Infection Control and Epidemiology (CBIC) and the Association for Professional in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) offer certification exams.
A job as an epidemiologist requires the following skills:
Advanced knowledge of statistics and mathematics: Epidemiologists must have a working knowledge of statistical methods in order to analyze data, interpret results, and draw conclusions.
Strong problem-solving skills: These skills are necessary for analyzing data, interpreting results, and drawing conclusions.
An ability to communicate effectively: It is important to be able to communicate with coworkers, supervisors, physicians, public health officials, and other professionals.
An understanding of disease prevention: Epidemiologists must have a basic understanding of disease prevention in order to study ways to reduce the incidence of illness.
Ability to research: Epidemiologists should have an interest in conducting research in order to better understand disease processes and methods of preventing them.
Managing multiple projects: This is a high-stress job with many deadlines. Epidemiologists must be able to juggle several projects at once and meet all deadlines.
Epidemiologist Work Environment
Epidemiologists usually work for public health agencies, government organizations, or private businesses. They often face long hours and irregular schedules. Epidemiologists research, study and observe the patterns of diseases in a community. An epidemiologist works in an office, with computers and other office equipment. However, the job is rarely sedentary.
Epidemiologists must constantly search for new sources of information from government agencies, academic institutions, financial analysts, and industry associations. In order to better their knowledge base, they must travel to different locations around the world. Epidemiologists may also attend medical conferences or other training sessions. Some epidemiologists work with specific populations, while others devote their efforts toward preventing disease outbreaks.
Epidemiologist Career Advancement
An epidemiologist who wants to advance in his profession can choose to become a director. This professional oversees the epidemiology department and is responsible for ensuring the department is meeting all of its objectives. This person is also in charge of ensuring that the department is adhering to all appropriate regulations and best practices within the industry.
You can also become a public health officer and work with international and national governments to ensure their epidemiology departments and programs are up to date and effective. This position requires significant experience in the field.
Here are three trends influencing how epidemiologists work. Epidemiologists will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.
Rise of Digital Health
Healthcare is quickly becoming a digital industry as more people begin to rely on electronic medical records and other digital tools for managing their healthcare.
This shift is also likely to impact epidemiologists, who may be required to make use of technology in order to help prevent the spread of disease or identify outbreaks.
Environmental epidemiology is a relatively new area of study in the field of public health that focuses on the role of the environment in affecting human health.
This emerging trend has come about as more evidence surfaces about the long-term effects of environmental pollutants, which are believed to be related to many chronic diseases.
Increased Importance of Infection Control
Infection control is an essential part of the work done by epidemiologists, as they are required to monitor disease outbreaks and understand how to reduce the risk of infection.
Infectious diseases have a global impact, as epidemiologists often find themselves working on a global scale. One example is a team of researchers who studied a cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone that ultimately helped them develop a better understanding of the link between cholera and climate change, which can have an impact on other diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.
How to Become an Epidemiologist
1. Planning Your Career Path
Epidemiologists study the causes and spread of disease in populations. If you’re considering this career path, it’s important to determine whether you want to work for the government or private industry. Government epidemiologists typically work at the state or local level and often hold administrative positions.
To become an epidemiologist, you will need to be interested in science and have a knack for solving problems. While it is important to be passionate about your work, epidemiologists should also have strong communication skills as they often work with doctors and other medical professionals. A love for science and medicine is essential for this position.
2. Writing a Resume
Epidemiologist resumes should highlight your ability to collect and analyze data in order to identify, investigate, and prevent potential threats that may pose public health risks.
You’ll want to emphasize your ability to collect data using methods such as surveys, public records, interviews, medical records, and lab samples. You should also list your experience creating reports based on the collected data. You should also include any education or certifications that you’ve received as well as any awards or accolades you’ve won.
3. Applying for Jobs
Becoming an epidemiologist requires a long road of education and training, but it’s definitely possible to get your foot in the door even if you don’t have a Ph.D. yet. Start by getting involved in the epidemiology community. Research organizations that work in this field, connect with other students on social media and ask professors if they know of any job openings. Join professional organizations and attend epidemiology conferences. If you want to land a job as an epidemiologist, your best bet is to become an expert in the field through experience—the more time you spend doing real research, the better off you’ll be.
4. Ace the Interview
Knowledge of epidemiology is important for epidemiologists, but it is not the only relevant skill when they are interviewing for a job. Employers may want to know more about your interpersonal skills, ability to communicate clearly, and the quality of your judgment and decision-making skills.
Examples can help you illustrate how you can use your expertise in epidemiology in a real-world setting, which is ultimately what is most important in a job interview. You should be able to demonstrate how well you speak about the subject matter and how comfortable you are in answering questions about it.
In addition, with most jobs being project-based, you should also consider being prepared with an example of how you designed a project and guided a team to complete it. Preparing ahead of time will allow you to give a strong answer.