According to the 2018 Best Jobs Ranking conducted by U. S. News & World Report, epidemiologists ranked as No. 1 in the Best Science Job category. U.S. News considers a variety of factors when ranking jobs, and epidemiologist won because of the favorable combination of a good employment rate, stress level, future job prospects and work-life balance, among others.  A high salary was also a factor for the high ranking; the median salary for an epidemiologist with a master’s degree is $69,660, and those in the top 10 percent earned more than $113,560.

What is an Epidemiologist? An Overview

Epidemiology is the study of diseases and their cause. The goal is to understand diseases well enough to eliminate or control them. As an epidemiologist, you would use experiments, surveys, interviews, statistical analysis and risk assessment skills to study the pattern of diseases.

Most epidemiologists work in the health departments of state and local governments. Others work in hospitals, colleges and universities. A smaller number devote themselves to scientific research and can work for the federal government in agencies such as the Centers for disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment in this occupation will increase by nine percent between 2016 and 2026, which is close to the average for all occupations.

An epidemiologist can work in a number of specialty areas, and they have less difficulty finding opportunities than someone who works in a less diverse field.

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Roles and Responsibilities

Epidemiologists collect and analyze data to explore health issues. Their role changes depending on where they work, but in general, they may:

  • Plan and manage studies to find ways to eliminate health problems and treat them if they do appear
  • Collect health data for analysis using interviews, surveys, and clinical tests such as bloodwork analysis to identify the causes of health problems
  • Analyze data to identify problems and to decide if intervention is needed, and to determine how to contain the disease process
  • Communicate the conclusions they’ve drawn from their work to healthcare professionals, policymakers and the public

The Zika virus outbreak in 2016 provides an example of the role epidemiologists play in public health. The entire world acted quickly to control the disease, which is spread by a certain type of mosquito. The World Health Organization estimated that 3 to 4 million people might have been infected in the Western Hemisphere. There were 5,168 cases reported in the U.S. in 2016, but 95 percent of those were in people who had just returned from an infected area.

State, local and federal government epidemiologists were quick to identify the outbreak and plan a response. Then-president Obama formed a coalition of experts to combat the spread of the disease. The teamwork between epidemiologists at all levels were instrumental in tracking Zika, finding ways to reduce the number of infected mosquitoes, and warning vulnerable communities on ways to protect themselves.

Skill Requirements

Epidemiologists can use a varied skill set, which includes:

  • Advanced math skills. These skills are required to design and administer studies. The ability to work with large data sets and use statistical software to analyze the data and produce conclusions is critical.
  • Detail oriented. An epidemiologist who made snap decisions in translating data into actionable information would not be effective. They need to be detail oriented to look at all aspects of a situation, and then identify the appropriate response.
  • Critical thinking skills. While technology helps in data analysis, the epidemiologist needs to be able to translate that information into action in response to a threat.
  • Communication skills. In the course of their work, epidemiologists are called upon regularly to make presentations orally and in writing to explain their research. They may communicate with public officials, community leaders and the public regarding public health risks. Communication skills are also important to ensure that an epidemiologist can work effectively as a member of a team.

Education Requirements

Education is the key for succeeding as an epidemiologist. Typically, employers want to hire individuals who have at least a master’s degree. The Master of Public Health (MPH) degree is the most common degree that starts an epidemiologist’s career.

Whether you are just starting your career, or you’ve decided you want to advance an existing healthcare career, St. Ambrose University offers you an online Master of Public Health degree program that will help you meet your goals. Our online format lets you balance earning your degree with other commitments while being taught by a faculty with real-world experience.