These leaner economic times mean that professionals are seeking a growing career opportunity with plenty of job growth and salary potential. One of the best choices is the field of public health and epidemiology.

The career of an epidemiologist offers you high job demand, good salary and an opportunity to help your local community. If you want to enjoy an exciting career in public health, read on to learn about how to become an epidemiologist.

What Is an Epidemiologist?

An epidemiologist is an advanced public health professional who investigates disease patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans. An epidemiologist tries to reduce the risk of many types of negative health outcomes through better health policy and community education.

Some of the typical duties of an epidemiologist include:

  • Direct/plan studies of serious public health issues to discover ways to treat and prevent the problems from recurring.

  • Collect and analyze public health data with interviews, observations, surveys blood samples and other samples – to determine disease causes.

  • Communicate data findings to stakeholders – policymakers, public and health practitioners.

  • Manage problems of public health by planning new programs, monitoring public health progress and analyzing data.

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To be a good epidemiologist, you should have strengths in the following areas:

  • Communication: You need to have strong speaking and writing abilities to better inform the public and community about serious public health risks. You also need to be able to communicate well to work well with colleagues.

  • Critical thinking: You will need to be able to thoroughly analyze data to figure out how you should respond to serious public health issues.

  • Pays attention to detail: It is important to be precise and accurate as you move from observation and interview and make conclusions

  • Strong math skills: Epidemiologists should have highly advanced skills in mathematics and statistics, so they can design strong studies and surveys.

  • Good teaching skills: Epidemiologists often have to work in community outreach, so they should be able to teach the public about public health matters.

Nature of the Work

Most epidemiologists spend their day collecting and analyzing data. They often use many types of tools to gather this information. They make interview or survey large numbers of people, and also collect blood and tissue samples.

They may evaluate demographic data to see if a certain segment of the population is at higher risk for some diseases. For example, one area may have an outbreak of measles. Epidemiologists there will perform research on children who get the disease and also women who are pregnant. The issue is that women are at higher risk of having babies with birth defects if they have been exposed to infectious diseases. See also 100 Awesome Things An Epidemiologist May Do

Education and Training

Epidemiologists need to possess at least a master’s degree in public health, typically with a focus on epidemiology. Epidemiologists also can earn an advanced degree in many other fields and specializations. Epidemiologists who are the directors of research projects usually have a Ph.D. in their field.

To be a successful epidemiologist, you will need to have advanced classes in and have skills in biological and physical sciences, mathematics and statistics. The classes that you take will focus on the latest statistical methods, survey design and causal analysis. Advanced courses will also focus on multiple regression, medical informatics, biomedical research and how to apply data most effectively.

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Most MPH programs with a focus on epidemiology will require you to finish an internship or a practicum that can last as long as a year.

Some epidemiologists have a degree only in epidemiology, while others may possess other degrees as well, such as an MD. These scientists often are heavily involved in research. If you get your MD as well, you will study anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, physiology, microbiology, pathology and various laws that govern the field of medicine.

If you decide to get the training and education that is needed to become an epidemiologist, you will be able to enjoy a rich career with a solid salary. The median income for epidemiologists is $65,270, with the top 10% earning more than $108,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also notes that the field will grow by 10% by 2022, so there should be plenty of jobs available if you decide to pursue this career path.

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