How to Become a Clinical Research Epidemiologist

Few careers allow the ability to impact human health and global policies the way a career as a clinical research epidemiologist allows. People walking this careers in public health  path have the exciting task of discovering how and why diseases happen and how to prevent the spread and recurrence of these diseases. Do you have what it takes for a fulfilling career as an epidemiologist? 

Requirements for Epidemiologists

Before you dive right in with thoughts of saving the world from the next round of bird or swing flu, it’s a good idea to learn what it takes to make this career path happen. Let’s look at education and skill set to start.

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In a field like this, education is a critical first step. Most scientists entering into the field of epidemiology have a master’s degree at minimum. The most common degree in this field is a master’s degree in public health with an emphasis on epidemiology.

Many of them have already begun work on or have earned a Ph.D. as well. Many of them hold additional medical degrees to shore up their knowledge of epidemics from medical and scientific perspectives.

Educational work in the following fields is highly useful in preparing for a future career as a clinical research epidemiologist.

  • Biological sciences

  • Statistics

  • Physical sciences

  • Immunology

  • Biostatistics

  • Health services administration

  • Health services research

  • Mathematics

  • Behavioral studies

  • Toxicology


Certain skills are desired among people in the field of clinical research epidemiology, including critical thinking skills, communication skills, and the ability to teach. Epidemiologists are often called upon to provide community outreach and public health information services that make communicating and teaching effectively essential skills in this career.

Additionally, the work involved in this field requires not only precision, but also an incredible amount of attention to detail and organization. Another necessary skill for all epidemiologists is the ability to listen well and conduct interviews. Fact finding is also an important part of the job epidemiologists are called upon to perform.


Many university programs work closely within the industry to help students interested in careers in epidemiology find internships with companies that provide them with practical experience while earning their advanced degrees.

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Upon earning a degree and entering the field for a health or government organization, though, most provide a full training program that serves to reinforce what students learned in university laboratories.


There are several specializations people interested in clinical research epidemiology can pursue. These lead to different, but equally rewarding career paths for those who pursue them. The following specializations are among the most common.

  • Infectious diseases

  • Chronic diseases

  • Bioterrorism

  • Injuries

  • Occupational health

  • Environmental health

  • Substance abuse

The key is for students to find specializations that spark their interests.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2012 median pay for an epidemiologist was $65,270 per year or $31.38 per hour. The income varies greatly depending on the industry. For instance, epidemiologists working for pharmaceutical companies earn substantially more than those who work for government agencies. The compensation for epidemiologists also varies by state.

Job Duties

Depending on the stage of career and the specific industries in which epidemiologists work, any of the following could be among routine job duties.

  • Gather data.

  • Plan and execute research studies.

  • Explain findings and relevant information to people in government, medical fields, and the general public.

  • Create and conduct epidemiological studies (and systems for observation).

  • Educate the public about general and specific health conditions, injuries, diseases, and illnesses.

  • Manage, plan, monitor, analyze, and improve public health programs.

  • Supervise support staff.

Sometimes these responsibilities will take epidemiologists around the corner, at others it will take them across the country or around the world.

Sample epidemiology job titles include veterinary epidemiologist, cancer epidemiology, chronic disease epidemiologist, social epidemiologist, and infectious disease epidemiologist.

Work Environment

Few professions provide quite the wide range of diverse work environments that a field in epidemiology does. From conference rooms and college auditoriums to remote villages and pristine laboratories and medical facilities with a few government committee meetings, community events, or press conferences in between, there are plenty of opportunities for changes of scenery in this particular industry.

Anyone who has the requisite skills and is interested in a career that’s fast-paced, exciting, and provides a nearly constant change of scenery should find work as a clinical research epidemiologist highly satisfying.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics casts a favorable forecast for the future of this field over the next decade stating that it’s poised for moderate growth in the years to come. While there has been a significant increase in people interested in this field over the past decade and more qualified graduates entering the workforce, competition for the jobs available has increased. However, students willing to work in any specialty rather than limiting themselves to specific specialties should have little trouble finding work.

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Students want to keep their options open in the job search process and consider fields in state and local governments, at universities and medical facilities, and organizations such as the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as private sector positions, primarily in the pharmaceutical industry or performing research for health insurance providers.

In summary, understanding the basics about careers in the field of clinical research epidemiology helps students make informed decisions about their future in this exciting field of medicine. This is one field where the rewarding aspect comes not only in the form of salary, but also in students knowing they’re doing work that makes a difference to the lives of everyday people. Those are the perks no job can attach a price tag to.

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