What They Do: Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans.
Work Environment: Epidemiologists work in offices and laboratories, usually at health departments for state and local governments, in hospitals, and at colleges and universities. Epidemiologists are also employed in the federal government by agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some do fieldwork to conduct interviews and collect samples for analyses. Fieldwork may bring epidemiologists into contact with infectious disease, but the risk is minimal because they receive appropriate training and take extensive precautions before interacting with samples or patients.
How to Become One: 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.
Salary: The median annual wage for epidemiologists is $78,830.
Job Outlook: Employment of epidemiologists is projected to grow 30 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of epidemiologists with similar occupations.
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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.
Epidemiologists typically do the following:
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 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:
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.
Epidemiologists held about 7,800 jobs. The largest employers of epidemiologists are as follows:
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||35%|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||19%|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||16%|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||10%|
|Scientific research and development services||9%|
Epidemiologists typically work in offices and laboratories at health departments for state and local governments, in hospitals, and at colleges and universities. Epidemiologists are also employed in the federal government by agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Work environments can vary widely, however, because of the diverse nature of epidemiological specializations. Epidemiologists also may work in clinical settings or in the field, where they support emergency actions.
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 encounter 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.
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.
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.
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—often 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 in length 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.
Communication skills. Epidemiologists must use their speaking and writing skills to inform the public and community leaders about public health risks. Clear communication 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 to design and administer 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.
The median annual wage for epidemiologists is $78,830. 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 $50,100, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $130,050.
The median annual wages for epidemiologists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Scientific research and development services||$126,470|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||$83,230|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||$78,410|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||$74,370|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||$66,840|
Epidemiologists who work full time typically have a standard schedule. Occasionally, epidemiologists may have to work irregular schedules in order to complete fieldwork or attend to duties during public health emergencies.
Employment of epidemiologists is projected to grow 30 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.
About 900 openings for epidemiologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to increased demand for epidemiologists to identify and mitigate the impact of diseases.
Demand for epidemiologists is expected to increase as enhancements in healthcare technology permit the discovery of new and emerging diseases. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth is expected to result in only about 2,300 new jobs over the decade.
These discoveries require research to understand the diseases and to develop methods for mitigating their adverse health consequences. Many jobs for these workers are in state and local governments, where they are needed to help respond to emergencies and to provide public health services. However, because epidemiological and public health programs largely depend on public funding, budgetary constraints may directly impact employment growth.
Demand for epidemiologists also is expected to increase as more hospitals join programs such as the National Healthcare Safety Network and realize the benefits of strengthened infection control programs.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2020||Projected Employment, 2030||Change, 2020-30|
A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.