An epidemiologist could...

Analyze what types of diets are most effective at preventing heart disease. plate of food Analyze data to determine what factors influence the development of a disease like diabetes. diabetes chart
Fly to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help monitor and contain an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. Checking people during disease Research whether a new strain of influenza has the capability to spread from person to person. Girl coughing
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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
Median Salary
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)
  • Read this interview to meet research epidemiologist Dr. JoAnn Manson who is devoted to improving the lives of women by researching the roles of diet and lifestyle in the prevention of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, diabetes and other major illnesses. Watch this video, as she speaks at the Future of Food Summit 2015.
  • Read this interview to meet state epidemiologist Dr. Dale Morse, who got his first working exposure to epidemiology one summer on a Navajo Indian reservation investigating allergic reactions to tattoo dyes, and a serious outbreak of giardiasis that causes gastrointestinal problems.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

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.

Other Qualifications

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.

Watch this video to see all the factors that epidemiologists are investigating as possible causes of multiple sclerosis, including how far a person lives from the equator.

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.

Work Environment

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.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Epidemiologists

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Additional Information


Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Medtronic
  • MedImmune
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