Epidemiology is a very important area of medicine that has to do with investigating the transmission, cause, treatment, and prevention of diseases that may affect the population. Epidemiologists spend a great deal of their time looking for clues into the reasons behind a disease outbreak, so that they can study the disease, how it affects a particular community, and how to prevent its spread. The information that they gather can then be used to educate the public as to the nature of the disease, as well as giving options to potentially prevent future outbreaks.
In most circumstances, epidemiology degrees will be found at the doctorate or master’s level, however it’s worth noting that other related majors, such as nursing, statistics, and public health, can be a useful addition to the individuals’ education as they work their way towards completing an epidemiology program.
Career Options for Epidemiologists
Epidemiologists are often responsible for investigating, analyzing, tracking, and discovering national, local, or international surges in illness and disease. These scientific professionals often study contagious diseases, but they can also become involved with other issues of public health, including maternal health, chronic disease, and even substance abuse. These professionals will conduct surveys and analyze various fluids within the body of an affected person in an effort to determine illness and disease outbreak patterns. What’s more, they often strive to control the spread of diseases, and the possibility for disease in the future using public health programs and behavioral modification.
Epidemiologists can work within a variety of different public and private institutions of health. This means that such careers might be found in laboratories, government agencies, pharmaceutical businesses, and universities. Regardless of where these graduates choose to work, they will be expected to follow safety procedures as carefully as possible when dealing with a suspected infectious disease. Most epidemiologists, because of the skillset that is required to do their job, will need to obtain a master’s degree at the very least. However, those who want to research for universities or obtain senior or executive level jobs, will need to obtain a PhD.
Importantly, the master’s degree that an epidemiologist must earn has to be obtained through an accredited program in an institution that offers programs in public health. Ideally, the best master’s degrees for them will have an emphasis on epidemiology. Often, the graduate level study will include coursework in everything from behavioral study and biostatistics, to health service administration, toxicology, immunology, and more. So what educational path must be taken to obtain a career in epidemiology?
First Step to an Epidemiology Degree
The first step in getting your epidemiology degree is obtaining a relevant bachelor’s degree. Importantly, epidemiology degrees cannot currently be found at the undergraduate level, but that does not mean that various other areas of study cannot be beneficial in providing a baseline for the future epidemiological pursuits of aspiring students.
While a specific major may not be required in order to get into the master’s program that you want, it’s worth noting that your undergraduate coursework should typically include some focus on the areas of social science, health science, calculus, chemistry, biology, and behavioral science. These courses will prepare you for on-campus epidemiology programs that train students on how to collect medical information, then analyze that information in order to produce relevant conclusions regarding the improvement of public health.
The Anatomy of the Master’s Degree
Once you have a relevant bachelor’s degree, you will be able to move on to a master’s degree in epidemiology – usually the minimum requirement for those who want to pursue a career in this area. At a master’s level of education, those who are interested in epidemiology will be able to choose from two primary degrees: a master of public health, or MPH, and a master of science. Of course, both of these degrees can be used to contribute to a PhD at a later stage.
In most circumstances, the curricula for master’s degree programs in epidemiology will draw from a wide range of different disciplines, covering various topics including the research methodology of epidemiology, clinical trial design, and even biostatistics. Many students will also find that they have a chance to study other areas, from society and health lessons, to classes on medical geography and occupational epidemiology. In order to graduate, all students will need to complete a thesis, and this may allow them to focus their research on areas that appeal most to their specific interests. For instance, some students might focus their research on areas like cardiovascular epidemiology, cancer epidemiology, neuroepidemiology, or genetic epidemiology.
Notably, some programs for epidemiology will also include specialty options that focus on clinical research, and these classes will allow students to focus their research on various professional fields like pharmacy, dentistry, or medicine. Furthermore, certificate programs that are used to supplement an existing knowledge of epidemiology can also provide an extra avenue of study for those who want to extend their expertise. Many of these programs are generally created for graduate students, but some will be willing to accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree.
Options in Doctoral Epidemiology Degrees
As with any medical or health-based degree, there is also the option that a person with a master’s degree in epidemiology might consider extending that education even further to the PHD or doctoral level. This is not always necessary for certain jobs, as many high-level careers can be obtained with a master’s degree, but it does offer a range of important information that can be useful in many settings, and even make you more competitive in the job market. What’s more, if your desire in the world of epidemiology is to teach other people at a higher-education level, or conduct research for significant changes to the world of epidemiology, then a doctoral degree might be advisable.
Doctoral degrees for epidemiology come in the form of doctor of science and doctor of philosophy degrees. Both of these options will differ in terms of administrative oversight and eligibility, as well as what you can expect to receive in terms of educational classes and experience. Not many schools offer the doctor of science degree in epidemiology. However, those that do allow students to observe epidemiology from the most statistical and scientific perspective possible. Regardless of the title, it’s important to note that most of the time, the coursework that you will be expected to complete, as well as the entrance eligibility requirements that you will be expected to complete, will both be the same for the ScD and PhD doctoral programs.
In order to complete the doctoral level study, students will be allowed to choose between one of two options in most circumstances. The first option is a paper thesis, which includes two or three manuscripts of a publishable quality that must be connected by the same common theme. The second option is a dissertation, wherein students are able to write a single, long manuscript that involves numerous chapters.
Many doctoral programs will take around two years of coursework to complete, followed by an additional two to three years of research in order to complete the final thesis or dissertation. What’s more, students will be expected to pass a written exam at a comprehensive level, an oral exam, and a preliminary exam, and give at least two presentations.
Successfully Pursuing an Epidemiology Degree
In order to be successful in your pursuit of an epidemiology career, it’s worth focusing on a couple of tips to improve your chances. For instance, students should attempt to become educated regarding the relevant software and technology that are being used in the industry today, as many employers will prefer candidates who are familiar with the process of data presentation and statistical analysis.
Additionally, although it might take a lot of extra time, earning a medical degree can also open a lot of potential doors for people who are interested in combining epidemiological studies with clinical practice. Many career paths may include earning a dual degree such as MPH/MD with a focus on something like infectious diseases. Having a medical degree can also substantially improve your potential income level, while still allowing you to tackle issues regarding epidemiology on a public health and medical perspective.
After Completion of an Epidemiological Degree
Graduates of an epidemiological degree, regardless of the degree track that they have chosen to take, should find that they have plenty of opportunities available to them to operate within various areas of public health and medicine, from careers in hospital and local health clinics, to those within private research laboratories. However, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of epidemiologists end up working for government agencies on a state or federal level.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that epidemiologists earn a median income per year of around $67,420. However, it’s worth noting that most of these professionals start off earning a lower salary and ultimately reach incomes that are much higher than $100,000 thanks to increased levels of experience and seniority. Those who work within scientific research and pharmaceutical industries will also usually get a higher paycheck in this career.