Epidemiologists investigate the causes of disease and other public health problems to prevent them from spreading or from happening again. They report their findings to public policy officials and to the general public. Epidemiologists work in health departments, offices, universities, and laboratories. Some do fieldwork to conduct interviews and collect samples for analyses. Fieldwork may require interacting with sick patients, but epidemiologists use safety precautions to minimize their exposure.
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Epidemiologists typically do the following:
Epidemiologists collect and analyze data to investigate health issues. For example, an epidemiologist might collect and analyze demographic data to determine who is at the highest risk for a particular disease. Research epidemiologists typically work for universities. Applied epidemiologists work with governments, addressing health crises directly. The most common problem both types of epidemiologists work on is infectious diseases, but they examine other public health issues, as well. Epidemiologists who work in private industry commonly work for health insurance companies or pharmaceutical companies. Those in non-profit companies often do public advocacy work. Typically, epidemiologists study one or more of the following public health areas:
Epidemiologists need at least a master’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution. Most have a master’s degree in epidemiology or a related field. Some epidemiologists have a Ph.D.
Epidemiologists need at least a master’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution. Most have a master’s degree in public health, with an emphasis in epidemiology or a related field. Advanced epidemiologists—including those in colleges and universities—have a Ph.D. in their chosen field. Coursework in epidemiology includes public health, biology, and biostatistics.
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 must use their expertise and experience to determine how they can disseminate their findings to the public properly.
Epidemiologists analyze their findings to determine how best to respond to a public health problem or a graver health-related emergency. Epidemiologists must be precise and accurate in moving from observation and interview to conclusions. Epidemiologists work with both qualitative methods (observations and interviews) and quantitative methods (surveys and analysis of biological data) in their work. Epidemiologists must communicate complex findings so that public policy officials and the public can understand the magnitude of a health problem. Written communication is critical for helping decision makers and the public understand the conclusions and recommendations that epidemiologists make.
They work in health departments, offices, universities, laboratories, or in the field. They spend most of their time studying data and reports in a safe lab or office setting. 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 2010, 54 percent of epidemiologists worked for federal, state, and local governments. Other epidemiologists worked for pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, colleges, or in life science research and development.
The median annual wage of epidemiologists was $63,010 in May 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,360, and the top 10 percent earned more than $98,380.