Careers in Epidemiology
Careers in Epidemiology
EPIDEMIOLOGISTS ARE SCIENTISTS who study diseases and other health risks within specific populations, such as geographical areas, cultures, occupations, demographic groups, or those who are genetically connected. They are disease detectives, so-called because they are the investigators who discover how and where disease outbreaks start, then find ways to prevent them from spreading and recurring in the future. It is believed that the first epidemiologist was Hippocrates, who studied how the outbreaks of different diseases correlated with environmental factors in Ancient Greece. That was nearly 2500 years ago. Since then, epidemiologists have saved millions of lives. They prevented the return of the Black Plague, identified how AIDS was transmitted, and quickly put a stop to the recent outbreak of Ebola in the US. These are just a few historical examples. The types of diseases that epidemiologists study are vast, ranging from food poisoning, to clusters of children with cancer, to mad cow disease. The work of epidemiologists is based on intense research, which involves the collection of samples and data, and the application of statistical analysis. Much of it is accomplished in laboratories, but many of these professionals never set foot in a lab. Instead, they might be found in hospitals informing the medical staff of infectious outbreaks, or developing containment solutions for infections within the facility. Some work for pharmaceutical companies working on new drugs or monitoring vaccine development. Others may be out in epidemic ravaged communities, ensuring public safety as quarantine officers or investigating possible toxic agents in the environment. Still others are employed in the academic world, teaching and conducting research at universities. To do this work, epidemiologists must be good with numbers, particularly statistics, in order to collect and accurately analyze data. That skill is of primary importance, but there is plenty more to learn before entering this career. You should expect to spend about six years following high school acquiring a master’s degree in public health (MPH) or a related field, such as health, biology, medicine, or statistics. When exploring an epidemiology career, you will find plenty of attractive features. For example, you will be generously compensated for your contribution to the public health of the world. The working conditions are generally excellent, the hours rarely include overtime, and travel is an option for those who want to experience other cultures. The future looks bright for future epidemiologists. The United States is placing a high priority on building up the nation’s public health workforce. There are many questions that bright, energetic people are needed to help answer. What does this mean for you? It means that with a degree in public health, you will enjoy unparalleled job security and a career path filled with advancement opportunities. Best of all, you will be working in an exciting field that offers the personal and professional satisfaction of saving countless lives.
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