How to Become an Epidemiologist (Duties, Skills and Salary)

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.

Epidemiologists are professionals within the health field who conduct research and analyse data to promote public safety. These professionals often work for public health departments, universities and hospitals. If you're interested in medical research and want to earn advanced degrees, becoming an epidemiologist may be a great career fit. In this article, we explain how to become an epidemiologist and share more information about the career, discuss what these professionals do, list the skills they develop and share how much they earn.

What is epidemiology?

Epidemiology is a sector of healthcare that looks at the incidence, dispersal and management of various diseases and other ailments that adversely affect health. This field focuses on how often diseases occur within various demographics and their underlying causes. Epidemiologists use the research to develop preventative measures for groups that are prone to certain ailments and diseases. It can also help professionals find ways to manage the symptoms of those who are already suffering from these illnesses.

Those trained in epidemiology help provide the foundation for various evidence-based medications and make it possible to improve the overall state of public health. Many consider epidemiology to be the cornerstone of contemporary public health research. It depends on social sciences, biology and the assessment of the risks associated with being exposed to various threats.

Related: 20 Careers in Health Science

How to become an epidemiologist

If you want to learn how to become an epidemiologist, review the steps below:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

Attaining a bachelor's degree is your first step towards becoming an epidemiologist. You can choose between many different majors, including health science, public health, medicine or statistics. The degree you choose to pursue is secondary to ensuring you're taking the right courses to prepare you for the next steps. Some of the courses you could take while pursuing your bachelor's degree are as follows:

  • Natural sciences

  • Biology

  • Organic/inorganic chemistry

  • Mathematics/statistics

  • Public/international health

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2. Join a master's program

The minimum education requirement for epidemiologists is a master's degree. Usually, these professionals focus their graduate studies on topics such as biostatistics, epidemiology or even public health if they also complete epidemiology coursework. Earning a master's degree can help you qualify for epidemiologist jobs with specific focuses, such as certain materials or infectious diseases.

Before committing to a master's program, it's helpful to conduct research to decide what type of career you may want. There are many positions within the epidemiology field, so you might consider choosing a degree program with a specific focus to help you develop a specialisation, such as health economics.

3. Consider post-graduate study

If you want to work for larger organisations, such as federal health departments and leading companies, you might consider earning a master's or doctoral degree in epidemiology. This qualification can also help you compete in the job market and may qualify you for leadership roles within a research team. A master's degree generally takes two years, followed by two to four years for the completion of a PhD.

You may consider applying for jobs within the epidemiology field while you study to earn your doctorate degree. This can help you to gain experience in the field and may help you with tuition costs.

4. Apply for positions

Once you complete your education, you can begin applying for positions. Consider tailoring your resume to the specific job you want to apply for. This can help you create a more relevant and effective resume. Reviewing the job posting to find keywords and including these in your application can help impress hiring managers, which may allow you to find a job faster.

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What do epidemiologists do?

Epidemiologists are medical experts who hold a master's degree at a minimum and may possess a doctoral degree. They practise in work environments such as offices and laboratories and may work in health departments, hospitals, colleges and universities. Epidemiologists are responsible for the following daily duties:

  • Research: One of the main jobs of an epidemiologist is to work with physicians and other public health experts in conducting research and investigations to uncover the causes of various diseases.

  • Interpret data: An epidemiologist also interprets data to better understand the risks associated with being exposed to various biological and chemical agents.

  • Educate: Epidemiologists create educational materials to be distributed to the public. They're also responsible for giving lectures on various health risks at a variety of organisations and institutions.

  • Write: Another responsibility of an epidemiologist is to write various reports and articles. They may help with grant writing to secure the funds necessary to implement viable solutions.

  • Conduct disease surveillance: Epidemiologists keep track of diseases that are rapidly mutating and could become the source of a pandemic.

  • Perform data analysis: An epidemiologist uses special statistical software to conduct data analysis and interpret its meaning.

Related: Data Analysis Tools: Definition and How to Choose One

What skills do you require to become an epidemiologist?

Epidemiologists gain necessary skills through their education and experience. If you're planning on becoming an epidemiologist, you might develop the following skills:

Research

The primary duty of epidemiologists is to research specific topics, such as infectious diseases and public health statistics. Epidemiologists often develop this skill while pursuing their undergraduate degree and enhance their abilities throughout their pursuit of a graduate degree. Their research may include designing experiments, conducting surveys and performing interviews to understand the origins of specific conditions and diseases.

Statistics

It's important to have a strong understanding of statistics when researching and analysing data from trials, cases and reports. Using statistical data, an epidemiologist can develop solutions to public health issues, design clinical tests and create prevention methods. While learning how to conduct research and earning an undergraduate degree, you can take courses in statistics and discover how to interpret and use this type of information.

Analysis

Since much of an epidemiologist's work involves researching and gathering data, the ability to analyse that data enables them to use and understand it. Analysis requires reading comprehension, critical thinking and interpretation skills. You can develop these abilities during your degree studies. You can improve and practise your analysis skills by reviewing and drawing conclusions from data.

Collaboration

Epidemiologists may work with medical researchers, public health professionals and other scientists to understand issues concerning public health. Collaborating with these professionals and the public helps epidemiologists develop solutions and ensure their safe implementation. Effective collaborators have excellent communication abilities, including oral and written interactions. You also require listening skills and interpersonal abilities to work well with others.

Collaboration is a soft skill that you can develop early through exercises that involve group work. You can also learn how to be a better collaborator through mentors, webinars and from interacting with colleagues.

Related: Top 10 Tips on How to Work Collaboratively in the Workplace

Presentation

Often, epidemiologists present their research and propose solutions to public health issues. Presentation skills involve the ability to create visuals to support research and data, speak publicly and communicate ideas clearly. Learning to use software that helps create presentations can be useful. Public speaking courses can also be beneficial to help improve your presentation skills. Public speaking courses may also teach you to create visual aids or presentations to accompany your speeches.

Related: How to Make a Presentation (With Detailed Steps and Tips)

How much do epidemiologists earn?

Epidemiologists earn an average of $110,525 per year. Those who pursue doctorates can often find more senior research positions within major organisations, which can increase their earning potential. Along with their salary, epidemiologists often earn other employment benefits such as paid time off, retirement funds, parental leave and compensation insurance.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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