How to Become an Epidemiologist

How to become an epidemiologist.

Epidemiologists are also known as “disease detectives.” They investigate the causes of diseases, determine who is at risk and make recommendations for how to control disease outbreaks.

How do you become an epidemiologist? Typically, epidemiologist requirements include a combination of education and work experience to serve in this role. Certification is not required for all epidemiologist jobs, but depending on their role, some epidemiologists may choose to further their education or improve their chances of employment by getting certified in their field of focus. If you’re wondering how to become an epidemiologist, read on for more information about pursuing this potentially rewarding career. 

What Is Epidemiology? 

What is epidemiology, and how does it differ from other fields of study in public health? Epidemiology is the process of finding the causes of health diseases and outcomes in various populations. While doctors may meet with individual patients, for epidemiologists, the “patient” is the entire community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines epidemiology as the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related events and states in specified populations. Epidemiology also includes the application of this study to control health problems.

What is an epidemiologist? Epidemiologists are public health workers who study populations to identify disease and injury patterns. They may work for government organizations, for research facilities and universities, or for pharmaceutical companies and insurance providers. Epidemiologists also may work for nonprofit agencies.

Epidemiologists use data-driven, scientific and systematic methods to examine frequency and patterns of health problems and events. According to the CDC, epidemiologists may investigate problems related to the following public health events:

  • Environmental exposures
  • Infectious diseases
  • Injuries
  • Natural disasters
  • Non-infectious diseases
  • Terrorism

Types of Epidemiology 

There are various types of epidemiologists, each with their own focus areas. Depending on the type of work you want to do, your preferred field of study and the types of populations you want to work with, you may choose to specialize in a particular type of epidemiology. Other epidemiologists work with a variety of populations on diverse public health issues.

Some types of epidemiological studies include:

  • Infectious disease causation, transmission and outbreak control
  • Pharmaceutical epidemiology
  • Field epidemiology
  • Forensic epidemiology
  • Veterinary epidemiology
  • Genetic and molecular epidemiology
  • Environmental health
  • Mental health
  • Maternal and child health
  • Public health preparedness and emergency response

What Does an Epidemiologist Do?

What do epidemiologists do? While epidemiologist duties typically depend on job title, industry and the area where they work, there are several similarities between different types of epidemiologists. 

What epidemiologists do on a day-to-day basis may include: 

  • Investigate patterns and causes of injury and disease.
  • Plan, direct, and conduct research to find ways to prevent and treat public health problems.
  • Collect and analyze information to find disease and public health problem causation.
  • Communicate public health findings to health practitioners, the public, and policymakers.
  • Write public health grant proposals for research funding.
  • Provide public health policy recommendations.
  • Manage public health programs.
  • Study demographic data to determine high-risk groups for particular diseases.
  • Research population trends to identify effective treatments.

The duties of an epidemiologist may change over time if the epidemiologist moves into different industries or takes on other titles. Epidemiologists in leadership positions may also manage teams of public health professionals.

Epidemiologist Job Description

A job description can give you an idea of a day in the life of an epidemiologist. An epidemiologist job description might look like this:

Epidemiologists are responsible for studying, mitigating, and controlling disease outbreaks. The epidemiologist must plan and direct public health problem studies. Duties may include collecting and analyzing data from observations, bodily fluid samples, interviews and surveys to determine the root causes of health problems. In this role, you may be responsible for developing action plans to stop the spread of infectious diseases. You may also be asked to communicate findings to key stakeholders, including policy makers.

Steps to Become an Epidemiologist

How do you become an epidemiologist? If you are interested in this career path, you may be asked to meet epidemiologist requirements including education, experience, and credentials in public health. There are also soft skills like decision-making, critical thinking and active listening that can benefit those who work as epidemiologists.

While how to become an epidemiologist may vary from person to person, the following steps are often followed:

  • Obtain a bachelor’s degree.
  • Gain work experience.
  • Complete a master’s degree.
  • Earn certifications, if necessary.
  • Begin working as an epidemiologist.

Step 1 – Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most epidemiologists hold a master’s degree or higher to meet epidemiologist education requirements.

Before earning your master’s degree, you will need to obtain a bachelor’s degree. It may be helpful to choose a bachelor’s degree in a field related to epidemiology education, such as public health or medicine. The Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health recommends a math or science major to provide a strong foundation for a public health career.

Step 2 – Gain Work Experience.

Internships or work experience can be helpful for aspiring epidemiologists, and they may be required for certain advanced degree programs, such as Master of Public Health (MPH) programs. When you complete an internship, you may gain more clarity into the type of work you want to do.

Step 3 – Complete a Master’s Degree.

As the BLS states, a master’s degree in a field related to public health is typically the minimum for epidemiologist education requirements. Baylor University has a Master of Public Health online program with a specialization in community health, which offers a limited number of classes that cover epidemiology and can be beneficial for students who want to pursue this career path. A focus in community health can build strong foundational knowledge for those interested in pursuing epidemiology. However, students wishing to focus on epidemiology will likely need additional coursework on such topics as analytics and study design in epidemiology, for example. They may be interested in getting an epidemiology certificate after completing their MPH degree.

Step 4 – Earn Certifications, if Necessary.

Depending on the type of epidemiology you are interested in, there may be specific epidemiology certification options that may boost your resume and increase your chances of earning a job within your desired field. One option for epidemiology certification comes from the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology Inc.

Step 5 – Work as an Epidemiologist.

How do you become an epidemiologist after completing the required education and training? It begins with searching for and applying for jobs. With a master’s degree in public health or a related field, you will often qualify for entry-level epidemiology roles.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to professors, classmates, former supervisors and coworkers for networking advice and recommendations for how to become an epidemiologist.

Epidemiology Career Path 

Why study epidemiology? Epidemiology careers enable you to use analytical and problem-solving skills to protect public health. You can directly affect populations by helping identify and evaluate infectious diseases.

That said, epidemiology jobs are not the only option for those who complete an MPH — there are a variety of careers in public health, including biostatistician, community health educator and health education specialist.

Below, we discuss what you need to know about the epidemiology career path and getting an epidemiology job with an MPH degree. 

Epidemiology Salary 

How much do epidemiologists make? The potential for an above-average epidemiology salary is another reason you might want to pursue this career path. According to the BLS, the 2020 median epidemiologist salary was $74,560 per year. This is significantly higher than the total for all occupations, $41,950 per year.

A typical salary for a master’s in epidemiology job tends to be higher than for a job requiring only a bachelor’s degree. According to the BLS, median weekly pay for someone with a bachelor’s degree in 2020 was $1,305 per week. For someone with a master’s degree, the amount rose to $1,545 per week. With this in mind, MPH epidemiology salaries may be higher than the salaries of epidemiologists without a master’s degree. An MPH in epidemiology salary may also depend on factors like where you live and what industry you work in.

Epidemiologist Job Outlook

Data suggests the outlook for epidemiology jobs is strong. The BLS estimates epidemiologist job growth will increase 30 percent from 2020 to 2030, which is faster than the average for all occupations. There were approximately 8,000 epidemiologists working in 2019, and 400 new positions are expected to be added by 2029.

Many epidemiologist jobs are with local and state governments. As infection control programs increase, demand for epidemiologists within hospitals is expected to expand. Epidemiologist job outlook is largely dependent on public funding and budgetary conditions.

How to Become an Epidemiologist FAQs

How do you become an epidemiologist? What are typical epidemiologist requirements? Check out these FAQs on how to become an epidemiologist.

Where do epidemiologists work?

Epidemiologists work for all types of organizations that deal with public health. These may include governments, hospitals, colleges, universities, professional schools, and scientific research and development services. Where epidemiologists work varies due to the diverse nature of different types of epidemiology.

What can I do with an MPH in epidemiology?

There are a variety of MPH epidemiology jobs available for graduates, including researchers, disease specialists and community health educators. A Master of Public Health online program may help prepare you for epidemiology jobs. Because an MPH covers a broad range of public health topics, you may be interested in advancing your education in epidemiology or getting an epidemiology certificate after completing your MPH degree.

How to become an epidemiologist for the CDC?

How do you become an epidemiologist for the CDC? The CDC requires a two-year program of training and service in applied epidemiology for successful applicants. Many positions also have epidemiologist requirements of at least two full years of graduate education or a master’s degree. Some positions may also ask for specialized experience relevant to the role.

Is epidemiology a good career?

Whether or not epidemiology is a good career depends on your career goals and interests. If you want to influence public health policy and help communities address potential health concerns, a career as an epidemiologist may be very rewarding. To excel as an epidemiologist, strong scientific, research, analytical, math, statistical, communication, and critical thinking skills are recommended.

How long does it take to become an epidemiologist?

How do you become an epidemiologist, and how long will it take? The answer may vary depending on the type of work you are looking to do and the epidemiologist requirements for that specific position. It may also depend on the education required — while most epidemiologist jobs require a master’s degree, some may require doctoral degrees as well. When you consider school, certification and work experience, it may take up to six years or longer to become an epidemiologist.

Citation for this content: The MPH online program from Baylor University’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences