How to Become a Clinical Epidemiologist (With FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 29 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're interested in medical research and community involvement, you may be interested in a career as a clinical epidemiologist. This role can provide you with a hands-on job making positive contributions toward collective medical knowledge and public health. Understanding how to pursue this career path can help you gain the necessary qualifications and ensure you possess the technical knowledge and skills this role requires. In this article, we review what a clinical epidemiologist is, outline steps that describe how to become one and provide a list of FAQs to help you through this process.

What is a clinical epidemiologist?

A clinical epidemiologist is a research professional in the medical field who studies the occurrence and frequency of diseases and major health events in specific populations. Epidemiology isn't only relevant to medicine but also to fields in the social sciences and statistical analysis. Clinical epidemiologists aren't doctors, although they study and identify the causes of diseases in a way similar to doctors. Instead, they advise doctors and other medical professionals regarding the appropriate treatments for various conditions and understand the intricacies and efficacy of various medicines.

The data collection and analysis the clinical epidemiologists perform help prevent potential outbreaks and can keep members of a population safe from disease. Their job duties typically include:

  • collect human tissue and blood samples to learn more about pathogens and their origin

  • create and manage health plans to help slow or stop the spread of a disease or minimise the impact of a health crisis

  • develop a preventative action plan for potential health events

  • research the relation between infectious diseases and their transmission and the populations and cultures where they occur

  • gather patient and population data by conducting interviews and distributing surveys to gain a better understanding of a public health event

  • manage the planning, implementation and improvement of public healthcare services

  • collaborate with other medical professionals, such as oncologists, to create effective treatments and improve patient healthcare results

  • create studies that analyse and predict risk factors and causes of human and animal diseases, transmission, treatment and prevention

  • analyse and improve current public health responses to control pandemics and chronic ailments

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How to become a clinical epidemiologist

Here's a list of steps for how to become a clinical epidemiologist:

1. Familiarise yourself with the role

Before pursuing this career, consider familiarising yourself with the role and the skills and credentials it requires. This can help you determine whether it's a good fit for your interests and talents and whether you're able to commit the necessary amount of time to your academic training. You can also evaluate your strengths and ensure they align with those of a clinical epidemiologist. This allows you to identify areas where you can grow and what you plan to focus on throughout your academic career. Common skills required for this role include:

  • Inductive reasoning and logic

  • Computer skills

  • Problem-solving and critical thinking

  • Attention to detail

  • Written and verbal communication

  • Mathematics and statistical proficiency

  • Ability to teach

  • Research

  • Interview skills and active listening

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2. Earn a bachelor's degree in a relevant field

If you're interested in this field, it's crucial for you to possess the required academic credentials and technical knowledge. The next step towards becoming a clinical epidemiologist is earning a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, such as public health, biostatistics, sociology or biology.

This can provide you with an academic foundation in a variety of subjects relevant to your prospective role, including immunology, physical sciences, mathematics and behavioural studies. Although your undergraduate degree may not focus solely on epidemiology, it's important for you to develop an in-depth understanding of other topics related to public health before pursuing a career in this field.

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3. Complete a post-graduate qualification

Clinical epidemiologists typically possess a minimum of a master's degree in a relevant field, so it's important to complete a post-graduate qualification after earning your bachelor's degree. You may benefit from earning a master's degree in public health and majoring in behavioural studies, biostatistics or immunology. This can help you identify the specialisation you want to focus on in your prospective career. It can also allow you to connect with and learn from established professionals in your field.

4. Grow your professional network

Once you've completed a post-graduate degree program, you may benefit from growing your professional network and connecting to others in your field. This can help you learn about available job opportunities and potential areas of research and employment. It can also help you contribute to develop your skills and expertise by learning from individuals who already possess relevant professional experience and are familiar with your prospective role. You may also gain insights regarding topics and current research projects that are important to the field and also of interest to you professionally.

5. Consider earning a doctorate

Although employers may not require a doctoral degree, you can earn one to further your learning and hone your professional expertise. If you're interested in directing clinical epidemiological research projects, earning a doctorate can help you qualify for this leadership position and allow you to improve your research skills. Depending on the program you select, it may involve one to three years of coursework and the completion of a dissertation. You may perform your dissertation research under the supervision of subject matter experts and can focus on topics including ageing, cardiovascular disease, zoonotic infectious diseases and genetics.

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FAQs about becoming a clinical epidemiologist

Here are some frequently asked questions related to becoming a clinical epidemiologist:

What is a clinical epidemiologist's work environment?

Clinical epidemiologists are typically full-time researchers for public or privately held laboratories, hospitals, universities and health departments for local governments. This means they may spend a significant portion of their career in a laboratory analysing data and creating reports of their findings.

They may also conduct fieldwork to gather information related to medical patients and the spread of pathogens. This can involve conducting interviews and collecting surveys to learn more about a population and their culture, environment or genetics. When gathering data, it's important for these professionals to wear a lab coat, goggles, gloves and medical-grade face masks to protect against infectious diseases.

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What are the areas of specialisation for clinical epidemiologists?

As a clinical epidemiologist, there are a variety of areas of specialisation you can select depending on your interests and expertise. Typical specialisations in this field include:

  • Nutritional epidemiology

  • Environmental epidemiology

  • Biostatistics

  • Social research

  • Women's health epidemiology

  • Psychiatric epidemiology

  • Neuro-epidemiology

  • Genetic epidemiology

  • Global health epidemiology

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Can you earn a bachelor's degree in clinical epidemiology?

When you're training for a role as a clinical epidemiologist, you can choose from a variety of university majors related to your prospective field. However, if you're interested in completing a program that solely focuses on epidemiology, you can complete a certificate program in this field that typically takes six months of full-time study to complete. Depending on your location, you may also be able to earn a Master of Epidemiology or a graduate diploma in this field.

How long does it take to become a clinical epidemiologist?

If you're interested in becoming a clinical epidemiologist, you can expect to complete a minimum of six years of academic training by completing a four-year bachelor's degree and two-year master's degree program. If you decide to earn a doctoral degree as well, you may require another three to six years to complete the coursework and research your program requires. Depending on your availability and the university you attend, you may be able to save time and complete your academic credentials sooner by completing courses online in addition to attending in-person classes or working.

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