The requirements to become an epidemiologist. Learn about the job description and duties, and review the step-by-step process that can help you start a career in epidemiology
What Does an Epidemiologist Do?
Epidemiologists investigate, analyze, and track local, national, or international surges in disease. They’re often associated with studying contagious diseases, though they’re also involved with other public health issues, including chronic disease, maternal health, and substance abuse. Epidemiologists conduct surveys and analyze bodily fluids to patterns or outbreaks. Then they strive to control the spread of disease and prevent future occurrences through public health programs involving education, treatment, and behavioural modification.
Epidemiologists may work in laboratory settings, studying the mechanisms through which diseases are transmitted. They may also work on modelling disease transmission on a local, national, or global scale.
They may promote public health measures to reduce the incidence or spread of disease and control pandemic outbreaks. It is important to note that epidemiologists do not always work with infectious diseases, and they can study the occurrence of chronic conditions like heart disease as well.
Epidemiology Career Overview
Epidemiologists may work for public and private health institutions, government agencies, laboratories, pharmaceutical businesses, or universities. Prior experience is not required for entry-level positions. However, advanced-level jobs require five or more years working in the field.
Safety procedures must be followed carefully when dealing with potentially infectious diseases, making this career path potentially dangerous. Most epidemiologists have a master’s degree in epidemiology or public health. Those who conduct research for universities or have senior-level jobs often need a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Some epidemiologists have professional medical backgrounds.
|Degree Level||Master's; Ph.D. for those interested in research; Medical degree
|Degree Field||Epidemiology, public health
|Key Skills||Medical and public health knowledge, critical thinking, spoken communication, and writing skills, attention to detail, experience in research design, and the ability to work with data analysis map creation, statistical and scientific software
|Job Outlook||5%, on average, increase in employment between 2019 and 2029
|Salary (2019)||Earned an average salary of $70,990
How to Become an Epidemiologist
Let’s take a look at the steps to become an epidemiologist, including epidemiologist education and certification requirements.
1.Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
You may be wondering how to get a degree in epidemiology. Aspiring epidemiologists must first earn a bachelor’s degree. No specific major is required, though undergraduate coursework should include at least one class in biology, chemistry, calculus, health science, social science, and behavioural science. There is no typical epidemiologist major offered at undergraduate institutions, but courses related to epidemiology are important.
2.Earn a Master’s Degree
A master’s degree in epidemiology or public health is usually the minimum educational requirement for a career in epidemiology. Course topics cover epidemiological research, clinical trial design, and biostatistics. Additional topics of study may include society and health, medical geography, and occupational epidemiology. A thesis is required to graduate. Students may be able to focus their research on cancer, cardiovascular or genetic epidemiology, or neuroepidemiology.
Some epidemiology or public health programs emphasize clinical research options, such as medicine, dentistry, or pharmacy. In fact, some programs are designed only for current medical doctors or medical school students.
- Become well-versed in relevant technology and software. Employers may prefer candidates familiar with statistical analysis and data presentation software, such as SAS/GRAPH and STATA. Other software programs include World Health Organization HealthMapper and CDC WONDER.
- Earn a medical degree. Earning a medical degree can open many doors for individuals interested in combining clinical practice with their epidemiological studies. Certain career paths include earning a dual Medical Doctor (M.D.)/Master of Public Health (MPH) to concentrate on certain infectious diseases. Having a medical degree can also substantially increase income level while allowing doctors to tackle epidemiological issues from both a medical and public health perspective.
3.Earn a Doctoral Degree
Many people wonder, is an epidemiologist a doctor? The answer is: sometimes. Often, epidemiologists may need a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) to advance to high-level research positions and university teaching jobs. Doctoral students can focus on chronic disease, molecular epidemiology, or nutritional epidemiology, among other topics. Graduation requirements include original independent research and a dissertation. Some Ph.D. programs are flexible to meet students’ personal interests. Dual M.D/Ph.D. programs in epidemiology emphasize clinical research.
4.Earn Certification as an Epidemiologist
Epidemiologists do not have to be certified, but certification can extend an epidemiologist’s qualifications and make them more desirable as an applicant for a job. The Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology and the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology are offered Epidemiology certification exams. Once you register with one of these organizations and pass the certification exam, you can become a certified epidemiologist.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, epidemiologists earned a median annual salary of $70,990 as of May 2019. The BLS also predicts that epidemiology careers will grow at a rate of 5% during the decade from 2019 to 2029. This growth is faster than average for careers in the United States. The table below displays information on the salary for epidemiologists based on the industry that they work in.