Epidemiologists are public health experts who are best known for tracking the cause and spread of infectious diseases, such as cholera, meningitis, HIV/AIDS, or tuberculosis. The end goal of their work is to hopefully keep those diseases from spreading, or to keep epidemics from occurring again in the future. Between 2010 and 2020, epidemiologists can expect 24% job growth, which is faster than average compared to other occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most of that job growth is projected to occur in state and local governments, and epidemiologists can expect a favorable job market well into the future due to shortages of qualified epidemiologists, the BLS indicated.
The median yearly salary for epidemiologists was $63,010 in May 2010, but those who worked in certain industries commanded significantly higher salaries. For example, those working in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry earned average median wages of $92,920, while those working in state, local, and private hospitals earned average median wages of 72,990, the BLS explained. Wages can also vary significantly based on your experience in the field, your roles and responsibilities, and the region of the country you live in. Epidemiologists typically assume the following job responsibilities:
- Obtains and examines data, such as samples of blood or other bodily fluids, or the results of surveys
- Leads research studies pertaining to various public health issues
- Writes reports and delivers presentations to health care personnel or policymakers in order to communicate the results of research studies
- Direct public health programs, such as infection prevention programs, or direct programs in the private sector, such as occupational epidemiology/industrial hygiene programs by developing, implementing, and evaluating program goals and measuring progress toward achieving those goals
- Provides supervision for other personnel in his/her department, including technicians, associates, and clerical workers
To become an epidemiologist, you will need a minimum of a master’s degree, although some epidemiologists do have doctoral or professional degrees, the BLS noted. Most often, the master’s degree is either in epidemiology or a closely related area, such as Masters of Public Health with a specialization in epidemiology. Even though epidemiology jobs typically do not require a MHA degree, such training is often beneficial for those who will serve as vice presidents, directors, and heads of epidemiology departments, as they will need a solid grounding in running the daily operations of such departments. Healthcare administration schools can provide training in health care finance, management, accounting, and human resources that these epidemiology leaders could find valuable.
Featured Epidemiologist Profiles
Epidemiology, Paul Etkind likes to say, is analogous to a Swiss Army Knife: it’s “useful in many different ways and settings, and very amenable to creative use.” Etkind would know. Over the course of a nearly 30-plus-year career, he has worked for several different states and in different facets of public health.
Bhuma Krishnamachari has been interested in chronic diseases since the first grade, when her teacher read the class the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, about a young girl who has leukemia. This sparked her interested in cancer, eventually leading to her career as a cancer genetic counselor for institutions including the University of Minnesota and Loyola University Medical Center.