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Epidemiologist: Education and Career Information

There are a number of career paths in the public health industry that are interesting and lucrative. One of these professions is an epidemiologist. They work behind the scenes to determine the cause of disease outbreaks to properly treat them and prevent future outbreaks from occurring. Their information helps develop and improve medical and clinical research, and assists in providing preventative measures all over the world. This is a challenging field to work in, but is always on the cutting edge of medical breakthroughs.

What does an epidemiologist do?

Epidemiologists work internally to investigate diseases, why they occurred, where they came from and how to prevent them. They take their findings to public officials who then disseminate the information to the public. They also work in the field to interview people and interact with others who may have been exposed to certain diseases to find out the root of the problem.

Epidemiologists work in a number of areas, such as infectious diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, bio-terrorism and emergency response, occupational health, chronic diseases, and other specialties.

Beyond the collection and analysis of data, they plan and direct studies of public health issues, manage public health programs through the planning and development, monitoring of progress, and determining how to better utilize resources and improve these programs. Epidemiologists also work in private companies in healthcare, pharmaceuticals and non-profits.

How much does an epidemiologist earn?

The amount of money an epidemiologist earns can vary based on specialization, agency they work for and location. On average, they make a median salary of about $65,000, with the top 10 percent making over $110,000 in 2013. The lowest an epidemiologist has made on average is $42,500. The best areas for high compensation have been in San Diego, Denver, North Carolina and Raleigh. The BLS predicts this field to grow about 13 percent through the year 2022, which is promising for scientists who wish to remain in the healthcare industry.

What types of skills are required to be an epidemiologist?

In such an advanced scientific capacity, epidemiologists need to have a diverse skill set. These skills include:

Critical Thinking: This is a highly specialized area that needs logic and reasoning to figure out complex issues regarding disease management. Critical thinking is needed to identify different areas of strength and weakness, come to conclusions and find resolutions.

Reading Comprehension: Reading is a skill that cannot be avoided, as there is a great deal of research to be read and deciphered for the retrieval of information.

Public Speaking: This position requires speaking on a number of levels, from policy officials to general citizens. This position not only works with others to interview and retrieve information, but must be well-versed in communicating findings.

Science Comprehension: This position is scientifically based and must be able to use scientific methods and variables to solve problems.

Monitoring: This position requires a high level of monitoring capabilities to assess information and determine viable results.

Writing: There is an intense requirement for writing on a number of levels in this profession. An epidemiologist must be able communicate their needs and findings in written form that will address a number of individuals. They must be familiar with standard methods of writing, as well as technical reports.

Listening: Listening is crucial in determining certain factors and in obtaining information for new, current and future issues and decisions that must be made.

Evaluation and Analysis: Being able to evaluate and analyze situations, methods and strategies after implementation is important in being able to successfully perform in this position.

Mathematics: Science involves knowing how to mathematically solve problems.

Management: An epidemiologist must be able to organize people and resources in the effective management of projects, research and information.

Negotiation: It’s important for someone in this position to be able to bring others together and negotiate viable solutions while reconciling differences.

Persuasion: A high skill of persuasion is needed, especially in getting others to participate in studies and understand what is needed to move forward. It is important to be able to persuade people on all levels for buy-in.

These are just a few skills that are needed. There are quite a few on the list that must be ingrained into an epidemiologist to be successful in this field, such as active learning, social perceptiveness, coordination, and instructing. All of these work together to assist an epidemiologist in being successful in their field.

Internship requirements

While there are no set internship hours for epidemiology students, clinical internships may last over two years under the supervision of a practicing physician or department head in the field. An internship is the perfect way to obtain information in completing the thesis or dissertation for master’s level or doctorate degrees.

Education requirements

There are a number of educational requirements needed to become an epidemiologist. A bachelor’s degree is the first step in this career path. Although there is no specific program of study, students should concentrate on classes in the sciences and math, including chemistry, biology, calculus and behavioral science. Once the bachelor’s degree has been obtained, students should pursue a master’s degree in epidemiology or public health.

Coursework in the master’s program includes epidemiologic research methodology, clinical research, biostatistics, statistical computing, survey methods in public health and advanced epidemiology. A thesis is required in this program, which will demonstrate the comprehension and proficiency levels of the students prior to graduating. When working on the master’s degree, students are able to focus their research in certain areas. It is also helpful if the students become familiar with statistical analysis and data presentation software programs that are widely used in a number of organizations.

Depending on the area an epidemiologist wants to work in, a Ph.D. may be an additional requirement. These individuals are qualified to teach at the university level, and usually hold those high-level research positions that make over $100,000 per year. These students may also pursue dual M.D./Ph.D. programs to focus on clinical research. A dissertation would be required to obtain this degree.

An epidemiologist does not need to be licensed, but can obtain licensure through the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology (CBIC) and the Association for Professional in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). There are also licensing and certification opportunities offered by the American Medical Association for those who work in academic and clinical roles.

Becoming an epidemiologist can be very lucrative, but will always offer a new challenge and perspective on learning. If the target goal is to work towards making the world a better place through finding solutions to diseases and medical phenomena, this may be the right career choice for you.

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