Epidemiology Degrees in Public Health

Epidemiologists provide the public with essential education regarding diseases, infections, life-expectancies, and more. Expertly engaging with scientific research, case studies, and other forms of data to pinpoint illness and disease causes, solutions, preventions, and controls, epidemiologists contribute significantly to the field of medicine—and the wellbeing of the population at large. Read on to understand the definition of epidemiology—and discover if it’s the right path for you. 

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Tufts University

Earn your Masters in Public Health with a concentration in Biostatistics & Epidemiology in as few as 20 months
GRE not required • 42 credits • Live classes

What is Epidemiology? 

Epidemiology comes from the greek word pi, meaning ‘on’ or ‘upon’; ‘demos’, meaning ‘people’; and ‘logos,’ meaning ‘the study of.’ It’s the study of what comes upon—or befalls—a population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But what does epidemiology mean in a modern context? According to the CDC, “epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations, and the application of this study to the control of health problems.” Put simply, epidemiology can be defined as the study of patterns, causes, and effects of health. 

What is Epidemiology in Public Health?  

The principles of epidemiology can be applied across a variety of industries, but epidemiology in public health has its own unique role. By studying and controlling health determinants, distribution disparities, and public health disruptions, epidemiology in public health applies the principles of the field to populations around the world. These professionals pinpoint discrepancies, discover information, and take necessary steps and interventions to close public health gaps and improve overall health outcomes. 

Bachelor’s in Epidemiology Programs

There are no specific bachelor’s programs for the field of epidemiology. However, a bachelor’s program in a related field can teach the foundational theories, principles, and research methods required for a career as a public health epidemiologist. Earning a bachelor’s degree in a major like nursing, biostatistics, or health sciences can provide a firm foundation in the science of diseases. With a strong introductory knowledge of the field and its function in the wider realm of public health, students will be well positioned to pursue a master’s in public health—and be on their way to the field of epidemiology. 

Curriculum for a Bachelor’s Degree in Epidemiology 

Again, you can’t actually earn a Bachelor’s of Epidemiology. However, some common courses you can take in undergrad to prepare you for a master’s degree include: 

Health Policy in a Global World

This course introduces students to key concepts in health policy formation, implementation, and evaluation on a global scale. Students will learn about the organization, financing, and delivery of global health care services and systems, and examine the role of governmental, private, and non-profit agencies in these processes.

Epidemiology for Global Health 

An overview of epidemiology in a global context, this course will examine the distribution and determinants of health and illness in human populations around the world, while introducing students to the core principles and methods of the field. 

Biostatistics for Public Health

An introduction to the basic concepts, methods, and techniques of analyzing public health data, this course will emphasize—and apply—the uses, interpretations, and limits of statistical analysis. 

Master’s in Epidemiology Programs

A master’s degree in epidemiology can take the form of a Master of Science (MS) in Epidemiology or a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in epidemiology. While the typical curriculum varies by the actual program, both an MS or MPH in epidemiology offer coursework in foundational concepts of epidemiology and public health, as well as a slew of skills-based, policy-based, and research-specific courses. All of these courses can empower students with confidence in their abilities to take a quantitative approach to address public health issues through an epidemiological lens. For many students of public health, a master’s degree in epidemiology is the first step to pursuing a hands-on, high-impact career in the field. 

Curriculum for a Master’s Degree in Epidemiology

Master’s in Epidemiology courses may include the following:

Analytic Methods for Epidemiology

This course will familiarize you with many of the most commonly used analytic methods for epidemiologists, equipping you with the tools you need to measure and assess risk factors of certain health outcomes.

Introduction to Epidemiology & Biostatistics  

Incorporating another key area of public health, this course will introduce the basic principles and methods of both epidemiology and biostatistics. You’ll learn how to apply this knowledge to relevant public health issues and questions—developing the skills to evaluate and analyze them through both lenses. 

Study Designs for Epidemiologist

This course reviews the main study designs and frameworks used to describe, predict and understand the causes of adverse health outcomes in humans across a wide range of geographies and demographics. 

Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

As an introduction to research synthesis, this course will teach the core principle and methods for conducting a systematic and quantitative review. Much of this will be illustrated through relevant case studies of public health issues.

Medical Degrees with Epidemiology Focus

Some individuals who work as epidemiologists hold 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. Dual degrees include PhD/MD and MPH/MD programs. Individuals with dual degrees may choose to specialize in clinical studies, population education, and/or pursue careers in academia.

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George Washington University Master of Public Health

With the online Master of Public Health (MPH) program from GW’s No. 12-ranked Milken Institute School of Public Health, you can earn your MPH in as few as 12 months. Make a meaningful difference in public health without having to relocate. No GRE required. Apply now!

GRE: Scores not required

Minimum GPA to Apply: Not specified

Credit Hours: 45

Specializations Offered: Global Health, Health Policy, Environmental and Occupational Health, Epidemiology and Public Health Research Methods, Health Communication, Program Planning and Evaluation

Program Options: Online

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Tufts University Master of Public Health

Tufts University School of Medicine, top-ranked for graduate study in public health by U.S. News & World Report in 2019, offers an online Master of Public Health (MPH) program with a built-in concentration in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. The program is CEPH-accredited and features collaborative online classes and a real-world Applied Learning Experience.

GRE: Scores not required

Minimum GPA to Apply: Not specified

Credit Hours: 42

Specializations Offered: Biostatistics and Epidemiology

Program Options: Online

Doctorate in Epidemiology Programs

A doctorate, or PhD in Epidemiology program, provides public health professionals specializing in epidemiology with the highest level of education and degree standing possible. Some doctoral students go on into the field as independent, innovative, and leading research scientists in the field of epidemiology. Others with a PhD in epidemiology may choose to go into academia. The curriculum for a PhD in Epidemiology will include various advanced courses that cover study design, research and analytical methods, and data, trial, and testing skills.

Curriculum for a Doctorate Degree in Epidemiology

PhD in Epidemiology courses may include the following:

Advanced Epidemiology 

This course will build upon students’ epidemiological foundations from prior years of study, teaching them to analyze and interpret epidemiologic studies using advanced methods. In addition, students learn to understand, analyze, and explain the theoretical underpinnings of both new and traditional epidemiological study designs.

Novel Analytical Methods for Epidemiology

Broadening well beyond the basics of epidemiological analytics, this course will teach the most advanced and novel analytical techniques and methods in the field. Students will gain expertise in data collection, data analysis, statistical analysis, and summarization.

Epidemiology Careers and Industries

Career options for those with degrees in epidemiology are finite—mainly because of the precise nature of the field. A bachelor’s degree in an epidemiological subject may allow you to work as a biostatistician, social scientist, medical administrative assistant, research assistant, or another similar career. 

Those with a master’s degree in epidemiology will qualify for a wider selection of roles within the field. They may pursue roles in epidemiology, clinical research, or data analysis—working in government, hospital, laboratory, or university settings. The majority of government jobs for epidemiologists are at the state and local levels. In hospitals, laboratories, and university settings, epidemiologists tend to work as medical scientists, conducting infection surveillance and prevention.

Epidemiologist is still one of the higher paying public health careers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for epidemiologists in 2019 was $70,990. Overall, epidemiologists are likely to have good job prospects. The employment of epidemiologists is projected to grow 5% from 2018 to 2028, which is as fast as the average for all occupations.

What Can You do with an Epidemiology Degree?

Careers in epidemiology and adjacent fields with the similar educational requirements include:

Epidemiologist

The most straightforward application of your epidemiology degree is to enter a career as an epidemiologist. As described above, this is a growing and lucrative occupation, and you will have the opportunity to work in a variety of exciting roles.

Statisticians

Statisticians can work in government, hospital, pharmaceutical, or even non-profit settings, developing studies that will be presented in a variety of applications. A fast-growing field, the median annual pay for statisticians in 2019 was $91,160.

Community Health Workers

Community health workers assist communities and individuals in adopting healthy behaviors through outreach, screening, and data collection. Community health workers are in high demand, with a faster-than-average projected job growth of 11% from 2018 to 2028.

Who Should Consider an Epidemiology Degree?

Epidemiology may be a good fit for someone with an interest in interpersonal relations, data analysis, and research. While much of an epidemiologist’s work is done at computers analyzing and manipulating data, a fair amount of work involves surveying and educating people. Epidemiologists are often responsible for taking complex health and medical data and relaying that information to individuals in policy or to the general public.

Skills needed for a career in epidemiology include: critical thinking, data analysis, understanding of statistical, medical, and biological concepts, research analysis, and proficiency with statistical software. Epidemiologists should also have strong communication and teaching skills.

Epidemiology Organizations to Know

Some epidemiology organizations include:

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 a self-described “expertise and passion in healthcare epidemiology, infection prevention, and antimicrobial stewardship.” SHEA partners with public health professionals and policy makers across a wide range of fields to achieve better healthcare outcomes. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the nation’s leading health protection agency, conducting critical scientific research and providing the necessary information to populations to protect the U.S. against health threats—both at home and abroad. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Epidemiology Degrees

Etiology vs Epidemiology – What are the differences?

While epidemiology can be considered the foundational study of public health, etiology refers to a more specific area of the field. Etiology hones in on the causation of a disease or condition—referring to the study of the source and origins of the pathology or illness itself—rather than its large-scale implications.

MPH in Epidemiology vs MS in Epidemiology

An MPH in Epidemiology will introduce the full spectrum of public health, including related fields like biostatistics, environmental health sciences, and health policy. This degree can prepare someone looking to influence public policy. Alternately, an MS in Epidemiology focuses on epidemiological science—teaching specific analytical skills and research methods students can apply directly to research. This degree may be the right fit if you are interested in the academic side of epidemiology.

Is an Epidemiology Degree Worth it?

An epidemiology degree can prepare students for a wide variety of career paths in the public health, medical sciences, and health research fields. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in epidemiology or public health, an advanced degree in epidemiology can help expand your options. It can qualify you for more roles and higher compensation—and hopefully set you on a path of success and fulfilment.

Information last updated June 2020

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