Epidemiology Degree Programs Guide

Epidemiologists provide vital research and understanding to pubic health and medicine. The key component of an epidemiologists job is to study disease and illness and the associated risk factors in a population and learn how it was, is and will effect populations. Epidemiological studies are the foundation of prevention and control in health and medicine.

Why Work in Epidemiology?

Work in Epidemiology speaks to those who enjoy 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 the general public.

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

Consider featured accredited online Public Health programs seeking applicants for a Master's of Public Health:

Education Information for Epidemiology Degrees

To work in epidemiology the majority of professionals have a Master's degree or higher. It is rare to have an individual with anything less than a Master's degree working as an epidemiologist, but they may be found working as research assistants or medical research assistants. For all Master's in Public Health Programs, visit our MPH page here.

Undergraduate Epidemiology Degrees

Individuals with an associates or bachelor's degree in biostatistics, nursing, health science etc. are well suited to work as epidemiology assistants and often to go on to higher education. These degrees provide an education in many of the concepts that will be used in the field of epidemiology. Individuals who receive their bachelors in biostatistics or nursing usually have the best opportunities to find work in a field related to epidemiology immediately after graduation, but neither one is a guarantee for a career in epidemiology.

Master's Epidemiology Degrees

The minimum degree for individuals hired as epidemiologists is a master's level degree. One of the most common degrees is the Master's of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in epidemiology. This degree will provide a well-rounded education in biostatistics, research methodology, social and community health, occupational health, environmental health, and many other topics. The Master's of Public Health will 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 in Epidemiology (MS) is another popular degree option. The MS degree is more focused on mathematical theories and science. This degree will cover scientific hypothesis, epidemiological study design, and the utilization of computer programs to analyze data sets.

Both the MPH and the MS have a significant amount of overlap and both will 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 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 specialty. These may be chronic disease epidemiology, tropical disease epidemiology, cancer research, or many other options that suit their interest. Students will 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, will show 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 good options for those seeking to minimize their time in school. These can be Ph.D./M.D. or MPH/M.D. programs. Individuals with dual degrees will be specialized clinical studies, population education, and/ or a career in academia.

Epidemiology Careers and Industries

Career options for those with degree's in epidemiology are fairly limited. A bachelor's degree in an epidemiological subject will allow an individual to work as a bio-statistician, social scientist, medical administrative assistant, research assistant, or something similar.

A Master's degree has the career options of an epidemiologist, clinical researcher, data analyst, etc. The majority of these careers are in government or hospitals, but some 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 epidemiologist. The demand for epidemiologists is quite low, only 8%-14% prospected job growth from 2012-2022 (source). The median annual wage for an epidemiologist, $67,400, is a reflection of how important those working in epidemiology are.

Careers with higher demand that are similar to epidemiology and require similar, if not the same, education are:

  • Survey Researchers
  • Statisticians
  • Community health workers

Survey Researchers

Survey researchers have moderate job growth with 15-21% increase in job openings between 2012-2022. Survey researchers will plan, develop, and conduct surveys and possibly analyze the data collected. These can be qualitative (social scientists) or quantitative surveys. Active listening, communication and critical thinking are key skills for a survey researcher. Most individuals in this career will have a masters degree, but some may have a bachelors with extensive experience in the field. The average annual salary for a survey researcher is $45,000 (source).


The projected job growth for statisticians is 22% or higher with 16,000 projected job openings between 2012-2022. Statisticians develop studies to obtain information, analyze data to identify trends, prepare analytical reports, and present their findings to others. Statisticians can be found in government, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, non-profits and more. According to O-Net Online the annual median wage for a statistician is $78,000 (source).

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 22%) with 20,800 projected job openings between 2012-2022. However these positions are 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. The amount of education is reflected in the median wage of $35,000 (source).

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" (source). 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
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

Accredited Online Public Health Programs: