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Career Overview

When you think about how many illnesses and health conditions there are, it can be pretty frightening. It seems like the risk of getting sick is getting higher and higher since new diseases are being discovered every day. Fortunately, there are epidemiologists hard at work, researching the causes of these diseases and finding ways to lower that risk and prevent people from getting them.Discovering the origin of a disease is no easy task. It takes a lot of research and data from several different sources just to have an idea of caused it. To do this, you'll spend a large portion of your time collecting and analyzing the data you gathered from observations of patients, interviews with survivors, surveys, blood samples, and anything else you might find useful. You also have to factor demographics variables like age, ethnicity, gender, and lifestyle habits in your research to get as clear an idea as possible. For example, if a disease is only affecting men over the age of 40, then you can narrow your focus and find out why it only occurs in that specific group of people. Determining these details and understanding the cause is the key to finding the best way to prevent the illness from spreading.Once you know what the best method for preventing the illness is, the next step is communicating your findings. You might share your research with hospitals, doctors, medical journals, policymakers, or even the general public. No matter which avenue you report to, getting the information out there is the most important part of your job. After all, what good is preventing a disease from spreading if no one knows how?.They say, "Prevention is better than cure," and in this case, they're right. Instead of getting sick and being cured, wouldn't you rather just stay healthy and not get sick at all? In some cases, that's not always an option. But that's why epidemiologists are such an important part of medicine. Without people doing the research and finding ways to prevent illness from spreading, we'd be in serious trouble.

Salaries and Job Outlook*

2013 Median Annual Pay
Number of Jobs in 2013
Projected Growth Rate
8.7 %

Education and Training

Degrees Required:
Master's Degree Public Health, Epidemiology or related fields

To become an epidemiologist, you'll need to earn at least your master's degree. After you earn your bachelor's degree, you can choose a specialization and focus on taking classes in that area. But for the most part, you can expect to take courses in math and statistics, as well as public health, biological science, and physical science. Once you earn your master's degree, you can start working on research projects, but if you're looking to direct and manage your own research project or team, you'll need to earn your Ph.D.

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Valued Traits & Abilities

Quantitative Abilities
Communication Skills
Analytical Skills
Detail Oriented

Career Opportunities

Epidemiologists typically don't branch out into other positions, but many choose to earn a higher degree to qualify for a different position. But that doesn't mean you're options are limited, because you still plenty of opportunities for specialization in the field. As you can probably tell, it'd be pretty hard for just one person to understand every type of disease or illness out there. That's why many epidemiologists choose one specific kind of illness to focus on, such as infectious disease, bioterrorism/emergency response, chronic diseases, maternal and child health, and substance abuse. When it comes time to pick a specialization, just make sure you choose one that you're passionate about.

Work Environment

When it comes to your place of work, you have a pretty wide selection of options, including medical laboratories, government health departments, hospitals, and even universities. You'll typically do most of your work in an office during the usual, full-time business hours. In some cases however, you might have to travel to another city to do some field work or run tests in another lab.

* Source: BLS Data - 2013