A Public Health Career in Epidemiology

Whether it’s conducting clinical research, investigating patterns of a disease or collecting complex data, epidemiology is a public health profession that leverages health science information to enhance the well-being of people around the globe.   

By pursuing a Master of Public Health (MPH), you can choose to specialize in epidemiology and address the need for competent public health experts who have the ability to rigorously evaluate scientific information and use it to better society.

What Does an Epidemiologist Do?

Public health research professionals such as epidemiologists analyze health information and collect relevant data to develop awareness about the origin of sickness and disease. Their findings are then applied to a variety of venues, including the regulatory arena, private organizations and public policy.

Epidemiologists perform the following job functions:

  • Plan and direct studies of public health challenges to prevent, treat and anticipate patterns of sickness and disease
  • Collect and analyze data through observations, interviews and surveys, and biological samples to find the causes of sickness and disease
  • Present and communicate their findings to health practitioners, policymakers, private organizations and the public
  • Manage and develop public health programs, monitor their progress and see ways to optimize and innovate research techniques
  • Supervise professional, technical, and medical personnel

How Do I Become an Epidemiologist?

A career in epidemiology typically begins with a bachelor’s degree in biology, medicine or other biological science. Epidemiologists then typically obtain a master’s in public health focusing on biostatistics, behavioral studies, immunology, health services and administration and epidemiological methods.

Many in the field also pursue courses or continuing education in biochemistry or molecular biology so they can specialize in certain numerous applications or variations of epidemiology. This kind of training prepares students to use the tools most commonly associated with the field such as SAS or SPSS statistical software, interviewing techniques and medical processes such as drawing blood.

Where Do Epidemiologists Work?

Due to its diverse nature, epidemiology work environments can vary widely, but no matter the occupational setting, epidemiologists typically work to align evidence with real-world problems and reveal new ways to resolve public health issues around the globe.

Epidemiologists are typically employed at health departments for state and local governments in offices and laboratories. Epidemiologists are hired at hospitals, colleges, universities and federal government agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Private organizations, such as CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, also employ epidemiologists.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest employers of epidemiologists are: 1

  • State government, excluding education and hospitals — 34%
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals — 19%
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private— 15%
  • Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private — 10%
  • Scientific research and development services — 10% 

Why Become an Epidemiologist?

Aspiring public health professionals fascinated by the idea of investigating, analyzing, and collecting data to improve the health of populations around the world may be interested in specializing in epidemiology.

Specializing in epidemiology presents a wide number of possibilities for employment, enabling these professionals to find a particular occupational sector or setting that aligns with their interests.

Epidemiologists conduct research and work to improve health in the following areas:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Bioterrorism/emergency response
  • Maternal and child health
  • Chronic diseases
  • Environmental health
  • Injury
  • Occupational health
  • Substance abuse
  • Oral health

Job Growth and Salary Outlook for Epidemiologists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that epidemiologists will see an increase in job opportunities by 9 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Epidemiological and infection control capacity is expected to increase in hospitals as more hospitals join programs such as the National Healthcare Safety Network and realize the benefits of strengthened infection control programs.2

Most epidemiologists have a standard schedule and work full time. Occasionally, epidemiologists may have to work long or irregular hours in order to complete fieldwork or tend to duties during public health emergencies.

The median annual wage for epidemiologists was $69,660 in May 2018. In May 2018, the median annual wages for epidemiologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:3

  • Scientific research and development services — $98,800
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private— $82,250
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals — $66,080
  • State government, excluding education and hospitals — $63,520
  • Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private — $61,790 

Learn More About MPH@GW

Located in Washington D.C., the nation’s hub of health policy, the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health (SPH) is the No. 12 public health school in the country.4

MPH@GW offers students part-time or full-time completion tracks with an option to earn your degree online in as little as 12 months. Students also have the opportunity to tailor their curriculum and concentrate their electives in public health disciplines such as epidemiology. 

Fully accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), MPH@GW enables students to advance their public health career online from a top-ranked school without relocating.