Job Description

An Epidemiologist is a public health professional who helps stop the spread of disease or other negative health outcomes. They do this by researching specific populations. By communicating their findings to public officials, they help determine public policy for preventing disease.

This field uses math and data to investigate the pattern of a health problem. They may be placed in charge of a program to stop a problem’s spread, or may continue to research how to stop a problem from getting worse.

Epidemiologists do not typically collect data directly from patients. They are sent this data by health organizations and try to make sense of it. The goal is to figure out how to prevent a health problem from getting worse as well as how to shrink or eliminate it.

Many people might think an Epidemiologist is mainly concerned with germs and health. However, this role is more concerned with statistical analysis and pattern recognition.

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Competitive salaries
  • Consistent need for position
  • Impact can be felt on a community-scale – sometimes global
  • Complex problem solving with real solutions
2018 Employment
2028 Projected Employment
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

This is a full-time profession with a standard Monday-Friday work schedule. Depending on local health concerns, there may be a need for longer hours, or weekend work.

An epidemiologist typically works in an office setting. They spend this time studying data and reports, typically with computer software. There is often a need in community settings to create ways to communicate prevention techniques to the public. Sometimes, an epidemiologist will communicate directly to a newspaper or news station.

There is also a need for field work. Epidemiologists need to help with public surveys, including interviewing residents of a population. Much of their data is collected by assistants, but collecting it directly can provide a better understanding of trends.

In the field or lab, they are trained how to prevent disease transmission. There will be a need to wear personal protective gear.

Skills Needed on the Job

Soft Skills

  • Excellent oral and written communication skills
  • Problem solving and critical thinking as well as reasoning
  • Sensitivity to problems – knowing when there is one, not necessarily solving it.
  • Able to find patterns and recognize what they mean (Statistic/Data Analysis)
  • Understanding what makes data good or bad.
  • Leadership skills – you will need to lead a team
  • Diplomacy/Second Language Skills – You will often need to communicate with professionals in different countries.
  • Analytical software, such as HealthMapper (Taught in school, or on worksite)

Technical Skills

  • Ability to use word-processing and similar software
  • Use of both databases and Spreadsheets (like Microsoft Excel)
  • Able to write and administer data-driven surveys
  • Very precise and data driven
Different Types of Organizations
  • Public Health Office
  • Laboratory for Government Health Department
  • Field Hospitals – Outside
  • International Relief Organizations
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Teaching at University

An epidemiologist is most likely to work for a public health agency in a local, state, or national government. While the majority work in an office setting, many also work in rural communities around the world to collect data.

Even when working for a local health department, you will likely communicate often with people around the world.

Expectations and Sacrifices

An epidemiologist will need a Master’s Degree in Public Health. This means you will need to attend school for close to six years before you are able to apply.  Some of these professionals earn a doctoral degree as well, which could take up to ten years total.

Extended time at school means you will need to maintain a high GPA (3.5 or above) in college to have a good chance of being accepted into a Master’s program. Many students work during their education which can mean not much time for social activities.

To advance in this field, find a specialization. Mental health, injury, and chronic disease are a small set of examples for this role. You may also be promoted to a supervisory role in a department. The best practice in this field is to continue taking additional training and attending conferences.

Current Trends
  • Improved methods for dealing with health concerns, including gene therapy
  • Tighter focus – specific types of viruses, cancer, or similar
  • Larger sets of data – making it harder to find the helpful data
  • New diseases (Such as COVID-19) will always occur.
What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were young...

Science experiments and studying nature
Counting and measuring – Sports statistics or similar are very fun introductions to data
Asking a lot of questions to learn about problems – very analytical
Biology activities and exploring anatomy
Coding, games with logic puzzles

Education and Training Needed
  • Bachelor’s Degree – Preferably in a science (such as biology), social science (such as Anthropology) or analytical field (such as calculus). Some school’s do offer a Bachelor’s Degree in Epidemiology as well.
  • Master’s Degree – Epidemiology or Public Health – applying directly from your Bachelor’s program.
  • Doctoral Degree – if interested in research or university teaching.
  • There is little job-training for this position
Things to do in High School and College
  • Anatomy, Biology, and similar health-related science classes
  • Calculus, Computer Coding, and similar data analysis classes
  • Anthropology and similar social science classes
  • Debate/Forensics and activities requiring ata and facts to demonstrate a point
  • Volunteer at the local Health Department
Typical Roadmap
Epidemiologist roadmap
How to land your 1st job

Starting with your undergrad degree, connect and build a network with your professors. You will have opportunities to intern both for your Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. These will connect you with those who hire new epidemiologists.

In fact, you can often find entry level work while completing your advanced degree. This will put you in a stronger position to find permanent work when your schooling is completed.

Recommended Resources
  • Websites
    • Centers for Disease Control – Epidemiology Training and Resources
    • Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists
  • Publications
    • American Journal of Epidemiology
Plan B
  • Social Scientists
  • Head of Public Health Office
  • Teaching Professor at University
  • Biostatistician
  • Research Data Analysis
  • Because Epidemiology requires a Master’s Degree, many individuals may be able to find a job using their Bachelor’s Degree if they choose not to move forward. This can provide work as a Data Analyst, Anthropologist, or similar role in their chosen field.
Words of Advice

Becoming an Epidemiologist takes good social skills as well as analytical data skills. Being able to speak well with others and logically explain data is very important. This field is concerned with data and facts – you must be able to trust your data, even if it shows you something you don’t like.

There can be a lot of opportunity for travel, meeting many people, and causing positive change around the world. It is very important to be able to focus on your school and build a network. When you are done with school, this network will not only help you find a job, it will also provide resources to do well in the field.


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