What Is an Epidemiologist and What Do They Do?

epidemiologists review data on a screenWhile much advancement has been made in reducing the occurrence of rare and common diseases, they remain an all too common part of life. Based on the most recent figures available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 3.7 million Americans went to the emergency room for treatment related to infectious, bacterial and parasitic diseases in 2017 and more than 15.5 million individuals in the U.S. sought infectious disease care from physicians in office settings. Literally ranging from A (Acanthamoeba keratitis) to Z (Zika), many of these diseases remain mysteries in terms of how to best treat them and their origins. Others that were once death sentences are today fully curable and treatable. These strides stem in large part to advances in modern medicine, stronger public health programs, and dedicated epidemiologists whose hard work and commitment to understanding diseases at the molecular level have helped save hundreds of millions of lives worldwide.

Epidemiology is a vast and expanding field in the public health discipline. With a Master of Public Health from Regis College, you can pursue this line of work and turn your passion for health, investigation, and research into a fulfilling career. What’s more, you can obtain the certification and MPH designation in epidemiology through coursework that can be completed entirely online in as little as seven semesters, which is a mere fraction of the number required for a medical degree. The Regis online Master of Public Health program can put you on the fast track to a successful career.

Often called “Disease Detectives”, epidemiologists search for the cause of disease, identify people who are at risk, determine how to control or stop the spread or prevent it from happening again.

What WHO epidemiologists do

Epidemiologist job duties

Epidemiologists have a range of job duties depending on their specific role. Some common job duties include:

What is an epidemiologist?

An epidemiologist is a public health professional who specializes in understanding the causes of disease and injuries. Epidemiologists conduct experiments and study available data to learn more about the causes of diseases and injuries with the purpose of developing guidelines to promote more positive health outcomes. Epidemiologists are at the forefront of studying new diseases and looking for better ways to combat existing ones. Some common areas of study for epidemiologists include:

Epidemiologists are involved in creating and executing public health responses to threats. For example, if healthcare providers identify a new virus in their patients, an epidemiologist studies the cases, learning about how the disease spreads. They may find that transmission largely occurs through the air and then recommend that people in the area wear face masks to reduce transmission. Then, the epidemiologist studies the results of their public health initiatives to evaluate whether they are successful.

Epidemiologist work environment

Most commonly, epidemiologists work in an office or laboratory setting. However, some work in the field, tracking diseases in communities or creating immediate disease responses. The largest employers of epidemiologists include health departments for state and local governments, the federal government, colleges and universities and hospitals.

On a typical day, an epidemiologist spends most of their time studying data. It is primarily a research and analysis role, but some epidemiologists are more active in the community and in the administering of a study. While an epidemiologist may help to define the parameters of a study, it is typically other scientists and public health officials that conduct the study.

Some epidemiologists studying infectious diseases may travel to more remote locations, since the number of infectious diseases has greatly declined in developed areas. Before arriving at these remote locations, epidemiologists receive training on how to operate safely and take precautions to protect themselves and others.

Average national salary and job outlook for an epidemiologist

Most epidemiologist positions require a masters degree at a minimum. Most epidemiology masters degree programs require a bachelors degree in a related field. There is no bachelors degree in epidemiology available, but there are programs that can provide strong foundational knowledge for your graduate program. Recommend bachelors degree programs include:

After obtaining a bachelors degree in one of the above fields, you can then apply for graduate degree programs. The most common graduate degree programs for epidemiologists are public health and epidemiology. Recommended graduate degree programs for this field include:

During your bachelors and masters degree programs, you learn how to conduct a study properly and analyze the results. You gain a strong knowledge of statistics along with human anatomy.

To advance in the field of epidemiology, epidemiologists might earn a doctoral degree. This credential shows an even more advanced level of knowledge in your field and can help you achieve positions with more authority.

Epidemiologist skills

Epidemiologists use a variety of skills in their work, such as:

Critical thinking

Epidemiologists gather information and data, then analyze it to form their conclusions. They use their critical thinking skills to determine the best course of action and ensure public health officials base their decisions on reliable data. Epidemiologists also regularly make quick decisions to address public health crises, using their critical thinking skills to find a suitable solution under pressure.

Math and statistics

Epidemiologists have a strong understanding of math and statistical analysis which they use when developing experiments and analyzing results. They regularly study large datasets to determine health policy recommendations. Epidemiologists also know how to evaluate whether their findings are statistically significant or outliers.

Communication

Epidemiologists communicate their findings and opinions with health officials and the public at large. They are comfortable explaining their findings verbally or presenting their research in written form. To ensure public health officials make the best possible decisions, epidemiologists communicate their suggestions clearly and precisely.

Collaboration

Epidemiologists regularly work with others when conducting studies and developing public health proposals. They collaborate with other epidemiologists to discuss ideas and methods, settling on the best idea before suggesting policy. They also work to share their findings with others so that more communities can benefit from their work.

Attention to detail

During their research, epidemiologists pay close attention to every detail. Their findings have a big impact on public health decisions, making it essential that they do not miss any important details. Epidemiologists may review their work several times to ensure that they covered everything and that they are providing the most accurate information.

FAQ

What are 10 duties of an epidemiologist?

Responsibilities for Epidemiologist
  • Analyze data and find conclusions.
  • Create a plan of action for potential health crises.
  • Create reports detailing potential threats.
  • Give presentations to policy makers.
  • Communicate with policy makers on public health.
  • Manage multiple projects at once.

What are three things that epidemiologist do?

Are epidemiologists considered medical doctors? No. While epidemiologists study and investigate the causes and sources of diseases in much the same way as medical doctors, they’re not considered actual physicians. Perhaps the biggest reason why is treatment.

Is epidemiologist a good career?

Epidemiologists monitor infectious diseases, bioterrorism threats, and other problem areas for public health agencies. Epidemiologists are public health workers who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury.

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