An epidemiologist could...
|Analyze what types of diets are most effective at preventing heart disease.||Analyze data to determine what factors influence the development of a disease like diabetes.|
|Fly to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help monitor and contain an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.||Research whether a new strain of influenza has the capability to spread from person to person.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Do you like a good mystery? Well, an epidemiologist's job is all about solving mysteries—medical mysteries—but instead of figuring out "who done it" like a police detective would, they figure out "what caused it." They find relationships between a medical condition and things like human behavior, environmental toxins, genes, medical treatments, other diseases, and geographical location. For example, they ask questions like what causes multiple sclerosis? How can we prevent brain cancer? What is the "vector" or animal that is transmitting the hantavirus? Which populations are most at risk from a new flu virus? Epidemiologists work to answer these and thousands of other questions in an effort to reduce public health risks. Their work has the potential to save millions of lives.|
|Key Requirements||Meticulous, analytical, logical, sensitive to other cultures, able to work independently or in groups, along with excellent communication skills and a strong desire to help people|
|Minimum Degree||Master's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus, English; if available, computer science, statistics, physiology, biomedical science|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Much Faster than Average (21% or more)|
Education and Training
To become an epidemiologist, you must have at least a master's degree from a school of public health. In some cases, you might need a PhD or a medical degree, depending on the work you will do. Clinical epidemiologists or research epidemiologists who work in hospitals and health care centers often must have a medical degree with specific training in infectious diseases. You will need to be a licensed physician (that is, you must have passed licensing examinations) if you are going to administer drugs in clinical trials. Epidemiologists who are not licensed physicians frequently work closely with those who are.
Epidemiologists should be able to work independently or as part of a team and be able to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing. Those in private industry, especially those who aspire to consulting and administrative positions, should possess strong communication skills so that they can provide instruction and advice to physicians and other health care professionals.
Nature of the Work
Epidemiologists are medical scientists who investigate and describe factors that influence the development of disease, disability, and other health outcomes. They formulate means for prevention and control. Epidemiologists focus either on research or on clinical situations.
Research epidemiologists conduct studies to determine how to wipe out or control infectious diseases. They often focus on basic research as well, determining the incidence of a particular disease in a particular part of the world, for example. They may study many different diseases, such as tuberculosis, influenza, or cholera, often focusing on epidemics. Research epidemiologists work at colleges and universities, schools of public health, medical schools, and research and development services firms.
Clinical epidemiologists work mainly as consultants in hospitals, informing medical staff of infectious outbreaks and providing ways to control the spread of infection. In addition, clinical epidemiologists are usually the ones who develop a hospital's standards and guidelines for the treatment and control of infectious diseases.
Epidemiologists generally work in clean, well-lit offices and laboratories. In addition to hospitals, epidemiologists work in colleges and universities, schools of public health, medical schools, and research and development services firms. Many work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, or for other government agencies. A 40-hour, five-day week is the standard; however, a flexible schedule is often required.
On the Job
- Monitor and report incidents of infectious diseases to local and state health agencies.
- Plan and direct studies to investigate human or animal disease, preventive methods, and treatments for disease.
- Communicate research findings on various types of diseases to health practitioners, policy makers, and the public.
- Provide expertise in the design, management and evaluation of study protocols and health status questionnaires, sample selection and analysis.
- Oversee public health programs, including statistical analysis, health care planning, surveillance systems, and public health improvement.
- Investigate diseases or parasites to determine cause and risk factors, progress, life cycle, or mode of transmission.
- Educate healthcare workers, patients, and the public about infectious and communicable diseases, including disease transmission and prevention.
- Conduct research to develop methodologies, instrumentation and procedures for medical application, analyzing data and presenting findings.
- Identify and analyze public health issues related to foodborne parasitic diseases and their impact on public policies or scientific studies or surveys.
- Supervise professional, technical and clerical personnel.
- Plan, administer and evaluate health safety standards and programs to improve public health, conferring with health department, industry personnel, physicians and others.
- Prepare and analyze samples to study effects of drugs, gases, pesticides, or microorganisms on cell structure and tissue.
- Consult with and advise physicians, educators, researchers, government health officials and others regarding medical applications of sciences, such as physics, biology, and chemistry.
- Teach principles of medicine and medical and laboratory procedures to physicians, residents, students, and technicians.
- Standardize drug dosages, methods of immunization, and procedures for manufacture of drugs and medicinal compounds.
Companies That Hire Epidemiologists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
Do you have a specific question about a career as an Epidemiologist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- International Society for Environmental Epidemiology: www.iseepi.org
- American College of Epidemiology: www.acepidemiology2.org
- International Epidemiological Association: www.IEAweb.org
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- Net Industries. (2009). Epidemiologist Job Description, Career as an Epidemiologist, Salary, Employment - Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://careers.stateuniversity.com/pages/474/Epidemiologist.html
- eMedTV. (2009, August 17). Possible Causes of Multiple Sclerosis. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXEwGQ7XcSA
- Pfizer Guide. (2002, January 16). State epidemiologist. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://www.whatispublichealth.org/careers/PfizerGuide/stateepi2.pdf
- Pfizer Guide. (2002, June 20). Research epidemiologist. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://www.whatispublichealth.org/careers/PfizerGuide/researchepi.pdf
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of: