MPH in Epidemiology vs. Biostatistics: Similarities and Differences

While there are some similarities, master’s degrees in public health (MPH) in epidemiology and in biostatistics are two unique disciplines. The programs may share some coursework, and both paths will result in a career in public health.

This article will review some of the similarities and differences between an MPH in epidemiology vs. biostatistics in terms of requirements, coursework and career potential.

What is an MPH in Epidemiology?

An epidemiologist studies disease and illnesses and the risk factors associated with specific populations to prevent and control diseases. An MPH in epidemiology degree can prepare you to pursue a career as a researcher, consultant or educator for public health.

What is an MPH in Biostatistics?

Biostatistics emphasizes capturing and interpreting data related to living things. If you enjoy math, science and biology, it could be the right career path for you. Unlike a degree in statistics, an MPH in biostatistics teaches students to use statistical methods in problems relating to biology, medicine and other real-world applications. Biostatistics prepares you to work as a respected professional in a public sector or academic setting, or perhaps with a non-governmental organization.

Epidemiology vs. Biostatistics: What are the core differences?

The epidemiology degree focuses on the causes and distribution of diseases and medical conditions. Coursework will focus on research methods and applications of epidemiology. Generally, the epidemiology degree has a greater emphasis on public health.

The biostatistics MPH is built on using mathematical and statistical analysis regarding issues in public health and medicine. The biostatistics route is more focused on statistical analysis than the epidemiology path.

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Similarities Between MPH in Epidemiology and Biostatistics

MPH degree curriculum typically includes social and community health, occupational and environmental health and other related topics. Communicating research results to various populations is a vital component of the career, so many programs require a capstone or thesis project to highlight a student’s abilities. 

Both epidemiology and biostatistics degrees are vital for public health and medical research. They use data to guide medical and public policy that affects the health of various populations locally and globally. In both cases, the master’s in public health career path investigates patterns and causes of disease and applies statistical techniques to collect and interpret public health data. In fact, some universities offer a combined MPH in epidemiology and biostatistics for students that desire both the medical and technical foundation to support their work.

For MPHs in epidemiology vs. biostatistics, there will be overlap in courses such as statistical analysis and biostatistics. 

Curriculum Comparison of MPH in Epidemiology vs. Biostatistics

No matter if you are interested in an epidemiology or biostatistics concentration, you probably will be required to take related or similar courses the first year to understand the landscape of public health. Some core courses may include: Research Methods and Applications, Foundations of Public Health, Epidemiologic Methods, and Introduction to Biostatistics.

While you’ll see noticeable overlap in the courses for an MPH degree in epidemiology vs. biostatistics, some specialized courses reflect the different disciplines. Your undergraduate coursework and professional experience will influence which career path makes the most sense for you. 

Admissions Requirements: Letters of recommendation, personal statement and minimum GPA (generally 3.0) are required. Test scores such as GRE will vary depending on schools. 

Not all schools specify students’ academic requirements. In general, an undergraduate degree in nursing, health sciences or biostatistics provides a solid foundation for master’s level work in epidemiology. Recommended courses may include: chemistry, biology, statistics or math.

An undergraduate degree in statistics or math provides the relevant skills for success in a master’s degree program. Electives in biology, calculus, statistics or linear algebra support an understanding of the relationship between statistics and public health.

Studying the curriculum is a useful way to understand the differences between two degrees. We consolidated a list of elective courses within each concentration from different schools for prospective students to compare. As you may learn, epidemiology is more focused on public health and biostatistics is more focused on statistical analysis.

Curriculum Comparison of MPH in Epidemiology vs. Biostatistics
MPH in Epidemiology MPH in Biostatistics
  • Survey Research in Epidemiology
  • Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology
  • Advanced Epidemiology Research Methods
  • GIS for Public Health and Epidemiology
  • Design and Conduct of Observational Epidemiology
  • Applied Epidemiologic Analysis
  • Visualization of Epidemiological Data
  • Critical Thinking in Epidemiology
  • Cancer Epidemiology
  • Applied Regression
  • Nutritional Epidemiology
  • Python for Public Health Research
  • Linear Regression Analysis for Public Health Research
  • Data Management and Data
  • Analysis
  • Principles of Biostatistical Consulting
  • Categorical Data Analysis for Public Health Research
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Biostatistics: Design and ANOVA
  • Theory of Statistics
  • Biostatistics: Regression
  • Biostatistical Computing Using R
  • Applied Survival Analysis
  • Longitudinal Data Analysis

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GRE: Scores not required

Minimum GPA to Apply: Not specified

Credit Hours: 42

Specializations Offered: Biostatistics and Epidemiology

Program Options: Online

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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

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Responsibilities, Careers and Salaries Comparison

The job outlook for biostatisticians is very positive as companies rely on research to develop new medicines and identify the sources of illnesses in humans and animals. Overall, 14,400 jobs are expected to be added for mathematicians and statisticians through 2028, including biostatisticians, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The job outlook for epidemiologists is average as they work primarily with public health departments, at colleges and universities and with the federal government and nonprofits. 

Epidemiologists often specialize in a public health area, such as infectious diseases, occupational health or maternal and child health. The BLS predicts 5% job growth for epidemiologists through 2028, or about as fast as average for all occupations.

Epidemiology vs. Biostatistics Responsibilities, Careers and Salaries Comparison
MPH in Epidemiology MPH in Biostatistics

Focus

Conduct epidemiologic research studies by collecting, analyzing and interpreting data to develop evidence-based practices to support public health policies and practices.

Focus

Develop and implement statistical studies to increase medical knowledge and improve research efforts in public health.

Careers Opportunities for an MPH in Epidemiology

Epidemiologist
Infectious Disease Epidemiologist
Applied Epidemiologist
Epidemiology Investigator
Health Science Analyst

Careers Opportunities for an MPH in Biostatistics

Biostatistician
Clinical Research Biostatistician
Principal Scientist
Survey Statistician
Data Scientist

Work Settings

State Health Department
Biotech Research
Academia

Work Settings

University Research Hospital
Pharmaceutical Research Lab
Academia

Salary and Job Growth for Epidemiology Careers

The median annual wage for epidemiologists was $70,990 in May 2019, according to the BLS. Average growth for epidemiologists (5%)

Salary and Job Growth for Biostatistics Careers

In 2019 the median pay for mathematicians and statisticians in health care was $80,920, according to the BLS. Faster-than-average growth for mathematicians and statisticians (30%)

Epidemiology vs. Biostatistics: Which Degree is Right for You?

Either discipline is an integral part of public health and medicine. The job outlook for biostatisticians is generally healthier, with a wider variety of career possibilities in statistics or data science. On the other hand, most epidemiologists work for state and local health departments. Depending on the type of epidemiologist, there’s also the possibility of working for universities, hospitals and laboratories.

Determining which degree is better for you is a personal choice depending on your interests, strengths and career goals. Here are some tips that may help you find decide:

Consider an MPH in Epidemiology if:

  • You want to pursue a career in public health.
  • You have an undergraduate background in health sciences, biology or chemistry.
  • You have experience in analytics/qualitative analysis.
  • You want to research diseases and illnesses and improve public health.
  • You are comfortable communicating to various communities about public health.

Consider an MPH in Biostatistics if:

  • You have experience or coursework in statistics, calculus and a programming language.
  • You want to design surveys and collect, clean and analyze the data.
  • You desire to influence public health policy and implementation.
  • You want to work in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals or other advanced fields.
  • You prefer to work in an office setting.

Each program offers unique experiences to prepare graduates for their careers. Both concentrations speak to those who have an interest in blending data analysis and medical research to influence public health outcomes, and both are available in online MPH programs as well. If it’s hard to decide which one to pursue, students might consider MPH programs where epidemiology and biostatistics are combined.

Last Updated July 2020

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