Epidemiologists

Career, Salary and Education Information

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  • EPIDEMIOLOGIST - LOS ANGELES COUNTY - Los Angeles, CA

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  • Epidemiologist - Stanislaus County, CA - Stanislaus, CA

    We recommend using a desktop or laptop computer. If you are still having technical difficulties, please call NEOGOV at 1-855-524-5627. ABOUT THE

  • Clinical Cardiovascular Research Epidemiologist - MedCore Talent - Boston, MA

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What Epidemiologists Do[About this section] [To Top]

Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans. They seek to reduce the risk and occurrence of negative health outcomes through research, community education and health policy.

Duties of Epidemiologists

Epidemiologists typically do the following:

  • Plan and direct studies of public health problems to find ways to prevent and to treat them if they arise
  • Collect and analyze data—through observations, interviews, and surveys, and by using 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 their progress, analyzing data, and seeking ways to improve the programs in order to improve public health outcomes
  • 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. They also may research and investigate the trends in populations of survivors of certain diseases, such as cancer, so that effective treatments can be identified and repeated across the population.

Epidemiologists typically work either in applied public health or in research. Applied epidemiologists work for state and local governments, addressing public health problems directly. They often are involved with education outreach and survey efforts in communities. Research epidemiologists typically work for universities or in affiliation with federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Epidemiologists who work in private industry commonly conduct research for health insurance companies or pharmaceutical companies. Those in nonprofit companies often do public health advocacy work. Epidemiologists involved in research are rarely advocates, because scientific research is expected to be unbiased.

Epidemiologists typically specialize in one or more of the following public health areas:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Public health preparedness and emergency response
  • Maternal and child health
  • Chronic diseases
  • Environmental health
  • Injury
  • Occupational health
  • Behavioral epidemiology
  • Oral health

For more information on occupations that concentrate on the biological workings of disease or the effects of disease on individuals, see the profiles for biochemists and biophysicists, medical scientists, microbiologists, and physicians and surgeons.

Work Environment for Epidemiologists[About this section] [To Top]

Epidemiologists hold about 5,800 jobs. The industries that employ the most epidemiologists are as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals 31%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 22
General medical and surgical hospitals; private 12
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 10
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 10

Epidemiologists typically work in offices and laboratories at health departments for state and local governments, in hospitals, and at colleges and universities. Work environments can vary widely, however, because of the diverse nature of epidemiological specializations. Epidemiologists also may work in the field, where they support emergency actions, or in clinical settings.

Most epidemiologists spend their time studying data and reports in an office setting. Work in laboratories and the field tends to be delegated to specialized scientists and other technical staff. In state and local government public health departments, epidemiologists may be more active in the community and may need to travel to support community education efforts or to administer studies and surveys.

Because modern science has greatly reduced the amount of infectious disease in developed countries, infectious disease epidemiologists are more likely to travel to remote areas and developing nations in order to carry out their studies. Epidemiologists have minimal risk when they work in laboratories or in the field, because they have received appropriate training and take extensive precautions before interacting with samples or patients.

Epidemiologist Work Schedules

Most epidemiologists work full time and have a standard work schedule. Occasionally, epidemiologists may have to work long or irregular hours in order to complete fieldwork or tend to duties during public health emergencies.

How to Become an Epidemiologist[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Epidemiologists near you!

Epidemiologists need at least a master’s degree from an accredited college or university. Most epidemiologists have a master’s degree in public health (MPH) or a related field, and some have completed a doctoral degree in epidemiology or medicine.

Epidemiologist Education

Epidemiologists typically need at least a master’s degree from an accredited college or university. A master’s degree in public health with an emphasis in epidemiology is most common, but epidemiologists can earn degrees in a wide range of related fields and specializations. Epidemiologists who direct research projects—including those who work as postsecondary teachers in colleges and universities—have a Ph.D. or medical degree in their chosen field.

Coursework in epidemiology includes classes in public health, biological and physical sciences, and math and statistics. Classes emphasize statistical methods, causal analysis, and survey design. Advanced courses emphasize multiple regression, medical informatics, reviews of previous biomedical research, comparisons of healthcare systems, and practical applications of data.

Many master’s degree programs in public health, as well as other programs that are specific to epidemiology, require students to complete an internship or practicum that typically ranges from a semester to a year.

Some epidemiologists have both a degree in epidemiology and a medical degree. These scientists often work in clinical capacities. In medical school, students spend most of their first 2 years in laboratories and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, and pathology. Medical students also have the option to choose electives such as medical ethics and medical laws. They also learn to take medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses.

Important Qualities for Epidemiologists

Communication skills. Epidemiologists must use their speaking and writing skills to inform the public and community leaders about public health risks. Clear communication also is required for an epidemiologist to work effectively with other health professionals.

Critical-thinking skills. Epidemiologists analyze data to determine how best to respond to a public health problem or an urgent health-related emergency.

Detail oriented. Epidemiologists must be precise and accurate in moving from observation and interview to conclusions.

Math and statistical skills. Epidemiologists may need advanced math and statistical skills in designing and administering studies and surveys. Skill in using large databases and statistical computer programs may also be important.

Teaching skills. Epidemiologists may be involved in community outreach activities that educate the public about health risks and healthy living.

Epidemiologist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for epidemiologists is $69,450. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $114,550.

The median annual wages for epidemiologists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences $91,900
General medical and surgical hospitals; private 77,460
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 68,180
State government, excluding education and hospitals 64,350
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 62,980

Most epidemiologists work full time and have a standard work schedule. Occasionally, epidemiologists may have to work long or irregular hours in order to complete fieldwork or tend to duties during public health emergencies.

Job Outlook for Epidemiologists[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of epidemiologists is projected to grow 6 percent through 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Continued improvements in medical recordkeeping will further improve epidemiologists’ ability to track health outcomes, demographic data, and other useful data. Improvements in statistical and mapping software will improve analysis and make epidemiological data more, thereby requiring the expertise of epidemiologists.

Demand for epidemiologists is expected to be strong in state and local governments over the next 10 years, but uncertain budgetary conditions are likely to moderate growth. Greater requirements for hospitals to track health outcomes and local population health concerns may increase the need for epidemiologists in hospitals.

Epidemiologists Job Prospects

Interest in public health and epidemiology has risen over the past decade. The number of master’s degree programs in public health specializing in epidemiology, as well as the number of graduates from these programs, has increased. Some entrants are finding strong competition for jobs, but applicants who are willing to work in any of the various specialties found in this occupation, rather than those tied to one specialty, rarely have trouble finding work. Because epidemiology is a diverse field, opportunities can generally be found if one takes a broad view.

Employment projections data for Epidemiologists, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Epidemiologists 5,800 6,100 6 400


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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