What is an Epidemiologist?
Also known as: Disaster Epidemiologist, Travel Epidemiologist, Enteric Epimediologist, Molecular Epidemiologist, Environmental Epidemiologist, Chronic Disease Epidemiologist, Applied Epidemiologist, Research Epidemiologist.
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An epidemiologist is someone who investigates 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.
How to Become an Epidemiologist
What does an Epidemiologist do?
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. They work with both qualitative methods (observations and interviews) and quantitative methods (surveys and analysis of biological data) in their work.
Epidemiologists typically do the following:
- Plan and direct studies of public health problems to find ways to prevent and to treat the problems
- Collect and analyze data—including using observations, interviews, surveys, and samples of blood or other bodily fluids—to find the causes of diseases or other health problems
- Communicate their findings to health practitioners, policymakers, and the public
- Manage public health programs by planning programs, monitoring progress, analyzing data, and seeking ways to improve them, among other activities
- Supervise professional, technical, and clerical personnel
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:
- Infectious diseases
- Bioterrorism/emergency response
- Maternal and child health
- Chronic diseases
- Environmental health
- Occupational health
- Substance abuse
- Oral health
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How to Become an Epidemiologist
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 two 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.
What is the workplace of an Epidemiologist like?
Epidemiologists spend most of their time studying data and reports in a safe lab or office setting. They have minimal risk when they work in laboratories or in the field, because they take extensive precautions before interacting with samples or patients.
Epidemiologists work for federal, state, and local governments, health departments, pharmaceutical companies, laboratories, hospitals, universities, or in life science research and development. Some do fieldwork to conduct interviews and collect samples for analyses.
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