Epidemiology Degree Programs

Epidemiologists provide vital research and understanding to public health and medicine. The key component of an epidemiologist’s job is to study disease, illness and the associated risk factors in a population. Epidemiological studies are the foundation of prevention and control of disease, and are a crucial building block in the field of health and medicine.

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Epidemiology Degrees

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the typical entry-level education for professionals in epidemiology is a master’s degree. Although it is rare to have an individual with anything less than a master's degree working as an epidemiologist, bachelor degree holders may be found working as research assistants or medical research assistants.

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Bachelors Degree in Epidemiology

Individuals with an associate's or bachelor's degree in biostatistics, nursing, or health science are well suited to work as epidemiology assistants and sometimes consider pursuing a master’s in epidemiology to advance their careers. Undergraduate degrees provide an education in many of the concepts that will be used in the field of epidemiology, but don’t offer the focused study that a masters includes. Individuals who receive their bachelors in biostatistics or nursing usually have opportunities to find work in a field related to epidemiology immediately after graduation, but neither one is a guarantee for a career in epidemiology.

Masters Degrees in Epidemiology

Typically, the minimum degree for individuals hired as epidemiologists is a masters level degree. Some epidemiologists have pursued a master's of public health (MPH) with a concentration in epidemiology. This degree offers coursework in biostatistics, research methodology, social and community health, occupational health, environmental health, and many other topics relevant to the field. The masters of public health may help an individual develop an understanding of their research from a public health perspective and prepare them for a practice-oriented career.

A master of science (MS) in epidemiology is another degree option to consider. This degree is more focused on mathematical theories and science and covers scientific hypothesis, epidemiological study design, and the utilization of computer programs to analyze data sets.

The MPH and the MS have a significant amount of overlap and both attempt to prepare a student to work in epidemiology. Some of the overlapping includes the use of epidemiological and statistical methods, strategies for analyzing data, research design and implementation and transferring this information to oral or written communication. A very important part of both degrees is learning the ability to communicate to a variety of populations, explaining sometimes complex research findings. Epidemiologists are often responsible for the research that influences public health policy and are relied on to inform policy makers. Because this is such an important part of the career, most programs require a capstone or thesis at the end of the degree to show full understanding and the ability to communicate effectively.

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Doctorate in Epidemiology Programs

Receiving a Ph.D. in epidemiology is often required for those who wish to work as leaders in academia or as a high-level researcher. At this level, a student will focus on a specialization in their field. This may be chronic disease epidemiology, tropical disease epidemiology, cancer research, or other options. Students may learn advanced research methodologies, further their education on writing scientific papers, and gain a solid footing in biostatistics. Independent, original research is a very important part of the Ph.D. in epidemiology. This research, along with a dissertation, demonstrates complete mastery of the field chosen.

Another degree option is the Doctor of Public Health, but this is much less common for those interested in epidemiology as it is more focused on management in public health than research.

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Medical Degrees with Epidemiology Focus

Some individuals who work as epidemiologists have a dual degree in medicine. This allows for further specialization in clinical research. Dual degrees are options for those seeking to minimize their time in school, while maximizing their career potential These can be Ph.D./M.D. or MPH/M.D. programs. Individuals with dual degrees may specialize in clinical studies, population education, and/or a career in academia.

Epidemiology Careers and Industries

Career options for those with degrees in epidemiology can be fairly limited because of the precise nature of the field. A bachelor's degree in an epidemiological subject may allow an individual to work as a biostatistician, social scientist, medical administrative assistant, research assistant, or another similar career.

A master's degree could offer career options including epidemiology, clinical research, and data analysis. Some of these careers are in government or hospitals, while others are in laboratories or universities. The majority of government jobs for epidemiologists are at the state and local levels. In hospitals, laboratories and universities, medical scientists are needed to conduct infection surveillance and are a common career for epidemiologists. The demand for epidemiologists is quite low, five to nine percent prospected job growth from 2016-2026.

Careers that might have a higher demand and are similar in educational requirements to epidemiology may include:

  • Statisticians
  • Community health workers

Statisticians

The projected job growth for statisticians is 15% or higher between 2016-2026. Statisticians develop studies to obtain information, analyze data to identify trends, prepare analytical reports, and present their findings to others. Statisticians may be found in government, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, non-profits and more earning over $80,000 a year, according to the BLS.

Community Health Workers

Community health workers assist communities and individuals to adopt healthy behaviors. This is done through community outreach, screening, and data collection. Community health workers have a high projected job growth (higher than 15%) with between 2016-2026. However these positions might be a better fit for individuals with bachelor's degrees as they require only minimal amounts of data analysis and are more focused on relaying information than developing statistical analysis. On average, community health workers may earn over $35,000, according to O*Net.

Why Work in Epidemiology?

Work in epidemiology speaks to those who have interests in interpersonal relations, data analysis and research, and enjoys working with both data and people. While much of the work done by epidemiologists is done at computers analyzing and manipulating data, a fair amount of work involves surveying and educating individuals. Epidemiologists are often responsible for taking complex health and medical data and relaying that information to individuals in policy or to the general public.

Some of the many skills needed for careers in epidemiology are critical thinking, data analysis, understanding of statistical, medical and biological concepts, research analysis, and proficiently with statistical software. Certain skills related to public health are also needed, such as effective communication, understanding of socio-cultural differences and education skills.

Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA)

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) is a professional society for individuals around the world with "expertise and passion in healthcare epidemiology, infection prevention, and antimicrobial stewardship", according to SHEA. The goal of SHEA is to partner with epidemiologists, scientists, public health specialists, infectious disease specialists, consumers and policy makers to achieve better healthcare outcomes. SHEA works with healthcare regulatory agencies and governing bodies to develop health policies. Membership can range anywhere from $70 per year to $300 depending on location and experience.

Consider a Featured Online Public Health Program

School and Program Information Online Program? GRE Requirements Time for Completion
George Washington University
Online MPH, Online MHI, Online MHA
CEPH Accredited
check_circle Online GRE Waivers Available As little as 12 months
University of North Carolina
Online MPH
The University of North Carolina's Gillings School of Global Public Health is an Accredited School of Public Health under the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).
check_circle Online GRE, GMAT or MCAT scores required As few as 20 months
Baylor University
The service-oriented Master of Public Health online program from Baylor University is now accepting applications.
check_circle Online No GRE Required As few as 12 months
Simmons College
Develop the methodological, leadership, and advocacy skills needed to address health inequity during our 21-month program.
check_circle Online No GRE Required As little as 2 years

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