Types of Epidemiologists and Salary Comparison

Epidemiologists examine patterns of disease among people to determine how best to deliver public health services and combat biological threats. They perform descriptive studies to identify characteristics and patterns of a disease or health issue to prevent negative outcomes.

One of the many benefits of becoming an epidemiologist is that it offers variety. Different types of epidemiologists work in various research settings and have diverse responsibilities, such as:

  • Management of medical, technical and professional staff in a range of settings.
  • Development, administration and testing of population health interventions.
  • Advocacy for population health at the state, local and federal level.
  • Analyzing data through qualitative and quantitative methods to address public health problems.
  • Studying challenges at the population level to limit and treat specific disease patterns. 

Epidemiology is an exciting field within public health. If you’re considering this career, explore the different fields and types of epidemiologists. 

1. Infection Control Epidemiologist

Sometimes called hospital epidemiologists, these types of epidemiologists create and implement policies that control disease and limit the spread of infection within health care settings. This field has emerged in response to growing and complex hospital infections as a result of modern medicine.

Job duties and responsibilities of infection control epidemiologists include:

  • Educating and enforcing hygiene use among health care workers
  • Monitoring and reporting infection data
  • Improving hospital safety for patients and employees

2. Pharmaceutical Epidemiologist

Some types of epidemiologists specialize in pharmaceutical research and development. They work for pharmaceutical firms and government agencies to study how a drug or group of drugs affects a population over time. They review how conditions spread, who they affect and what treatments have a measurable impact.

These researchers typically work in a lab setting and interact with drug profiles and tissue samples. They create crucial reports about drug safety and efficacy that are used by public health and regulatory agencies, private insurers and health care providers.

Although not required, some may choose to complete a doctorate in pharmacy for this field in addition to a master’s degree in public health.

3. Medical Epidemiologist

Medical epidemiologists monitor disease outbreaks, study clinical pathology and research potential cures for chronic and acute illness. They may also create public health programs to prevent disease.

This type of role requires a knowledge of clinical medicine. According to Springer Publishing, medical epidemiologists usually have doctoral degrees, such as a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.). This is different from other types of epidemiologists, as an M.D. is usually not required. In fact, many choose to become epidemiologists because they have an interest in medicine but choose not to practice. Most medical epidemiologists, however, have practice experience.

Within this specialty, these types of epidemiologists can become a medical generalist or specialize even further within an area of medicine. For example, some medical epidemiologists are viral epidemiologists. They study the conditions that could lead to a viral epidemic and plan intervention strategies for populations at risk.

4. Infectious Disease Epidemiologist

An infectious disease epidemiologist works to understand the effects of disease on a population. This can include studying new diseases like COVID-19 or researching established diseases like HIV, AIDS or influenza. 

Innovation in this field involves the use of big data and cutting-edge mathematical models to track disease and solve public health problems at the population level. 

An infectious disease epidemiologist may study in the field in addition to the lab. They may go where an outbreak first occurred to determine its cause and prevent further adverse outcomes. 

5. Field Epidemiologist

Individuals who work in field epidemiology intervene on the ground level in communities with severe, acute public health crises. Typically, these are unexpected and significant issues that require public health specialists to travel to the site and provide a time-sensitive response. For this reason, the nature of their work may differ from other types of epidemiology. They rely on descriptive studies to formulate hypotheses before conducting quantitative research.

Disaster response is another important area of work for field epidemiologists. They visit the source of global outbreaks and help local public health officials administer effective disease prevention strategies.

Field epidemiologists often work for government organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or global organizations like the World Health Organization. 

6. Molecular Epidemiologist

This relatively new field of study combines molecular biology with epidemiology. Molecular epidemiologists study the complex interplay between cells, proteins and genes to find the root cause of diseases and seek strategies to prevent their transmission.

This type of research uses molecules and genes to identify risk factors that cause and spread disease. For example, do genes impact people’s susceptibility to obesity and comorbid conditions like Type 2 diabetes or heart disease? What does exposure to air pollution combined with biomarkers tell us about the origin and causation of cancer?

Molecular biologists typically work in pharmaceuticals, biotech, academia or government.

7. Veterinary Epidemiologist

These specialized types of epidemiologists, also called epizootiologists or epizoologists, study patterns of disease spread in animal species. Veterinary epidemiologists use field principles and best practices to analyze and implement disease control measures among animal populations. 

Similar to medical epidemiologists, veterinary epidemiologists are specialized veterinarians. They have a doctor of veterinary medicine degree in addition to a master’s in public health or a related field. Many individuals also pursue postgraduate fellowships and education in this field.

Veterinary epidemiologists may work for private industry, scientific research and/or for state or federal government agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration. Often, they work to ensure a safe food supply for humans by limiting illness among farm livestock.

Epidemiologist Salary by Industry and Work Setting

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) salary data for epidemiologists indicates the median annual salary was $70,990 in May 2019; however, factors such as location, education, industry and work setting will impact salary. 

The most jobs for epidemiologists as of 2019, according to the BLS, were in:

  • State government, excluding education and hospitals
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals
  • Hospitals; state, local and private
  • Colleges and universities; state, local and private
  • Scientific research and development

The following sections outline the median pay for different work settings based on the BLS salary data for epidemiologists.

Scientific Research

Any type of epidemiologist can work in scientific research, but often veterinary, molecular and pharmaceutical epidemiologists will work in this field. This is because scientific research is common in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and chemistry fields.

The median salary for an epidemiologist in scientific research was $99,970 in 2019, according to the BLS. This is the highest median salary by work setting for epidemiologists. 

Scientific research and pharmaceutical manufacturing were two of the top paying industries for epidemiologists in 2018.

Hospitals

Medical and infection control epidemiologists are most likely to work in a health care setting. The BLS reports that epidemiologists who work in a state, local or private hospital earn a median salary of $81,810 per year.

Keep in mind that medical epidemiologists typically have a doctoral degree and may be licensed to practice. Due to education and job requirements, those with an M.D. are likely to earn more. The median hourly wage for physicians in general medical and surgical hospitals was $87.59, compared to $39.83 for epidemiologists who work in the same setting, according to the BLS. Therefore, it is likely that a medical epidemiologist’s salary can differ from other epidemiologists who work in hospitals, such as infection control epidemiologists.

Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools

Many epidemiologists work in academia. They may do academic research in a university or professional school. Some may have their Ph.D. and teach epidemiology at a university. 

Those who work in colleges or universities earned a median annual salary of $62,440 in 2019. Epidemiologists who want to teach postsecondary education will typically need to have a doctoral degree. Therefore, due to educational requirements, they may earn more than epidemiologists who do academic research. The most recent BLS data says the median salary for health specialties postsecondary teachers was $97,320.

State and Local Government

State or local government is a common work setting in this field. Many types of epidemiologists, such as infectious disease, molecular and field epidemiologists, can work for government employers. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for epidemiologists in local government was $68,410 compared to $64,380 for state government.

The BLS does not have salary data for epidemiologists in the federal government. However, medical scientists, a job with similar functions, had a median hourly wage of $60.61 in 2019. This is nearly double the hourly wage for epidemiologists working in state and local government. However, keep in mind that medical scientists typically need to have a doctoral degree for most entry level jobs, while epidemiologists do not.

To learn more, see our resources on Epidemiology Degrees and Steps to Become an Epidemiologist.

Information last updated in June 2020

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