Epidemiologists

What Epidemiologists Do

Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGXPzV9e-jw

Work Environment

Epidemiologists work in offices and laboratories, usually at health departments for state and local governments, in hospitals, and at colleges and universities. Epidemiologists are also employed in the federal government by agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some do fieldwork to conduct interviews and collect samples for analyses. Fieldwork may bring epidemiologists into contact with infectious disease, but the risk is minimal because they receive appropriate training and take extensive precautions before interacting with samples or patients.

How to Become an Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists need at least a master’s degree from an accredited college or university. Most epidemiologists have a master’s degree in public health (MPH) or a related field, and some have completed a doctoral degree in epidemiology or medicine.

Pay

The median annual wage for epidemiologists was $70,990 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of epidemiologists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Epidemiologists are likely to have good job prospects overall.

Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans. They seek to reduce the risk and occurrence of negative health outcomes through research, community education and health policy.

Duties

Epidemiologists typically do the following:

  • Plan and direct studies of public health problems to find ways to prevent and treat them if they arise
  • Collect and analyze data—through observations, interviews, and surveys, and by using samples of blood or other bodily fluids—to find the causes of diseases or other health problems
  • Communicate their findings to health practitioners, policymakers, and the public
  • Manage public health programs by planning programs, monitoring their progress, analyzing data, and seeking ways to improve the programs in order to improve public health outcomes
  • Supervise professional, technical, and clerical personnel

Epidemiologists collect and analyze data to investigate health issues. For example, an epidemiologist might collect and analyze demographic data to determine who is at the highest risk for a particular disease. They also may research and investigate the trends in populations of survivors of certain diseases, such as cancer, so that effective treatments can be identified and repeated across the population.

Epidemiologists typically work in applied public health or in research. Applied epidemiologists work for state and local governments, addressing public health problems directly. They often are involved with education outreach and survey efforts in communities. Research epidemiologists typically work for universities or in affiliation with federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Epidemiologists who work in private industry commonly conduct research for health insurance companies or pharmaceutical companies. Those in nonprofit companies often do public health advocacy work. Epidemiologists involved in research are rarely advocates, because scientific research is expected to be unbiased.

Epidemiologists typically specialize in one or more of the following public health areas:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Chronic diseases
  • Maternal and child health
  • Public health preparedness and emergency response
  • Environmental health
  • Injury
  • Occupational health
  • Oral health
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental health

For more information on occupations that concentrate on the biological workings of disease or the effects of disease on individuals, see the profiles for biochemists and biophysicists, medical scientists, microbiologists, and physicians and surgeons.

Epidemiologists held about 8,000 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of epidemiologists were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals 36%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 18
Hospitals; state, local, and private 15
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 14
Scientific research and development services 8

Epidemiologists typically work in offices and laboratories at health departments for state and local governments, in hospitals, and at colleges and universities. Epidemiologists are also employed in the federal government by agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Work environments can vary widely, however, because of the diverse nature of epidemiological specializations. Epidemiologists also may work in clinical settings or in the field, where they support emergency actions.

Most epidemiologists spend their time studying data and reports in an office setting. Work in laboratories and the field tends to be delegated to specialized scientists and other technical staff. In state and local government public health departments, epidemiologists may be more active in the community and may need to travel to support community education efforts or to administer studies and surveys.

Because modern science has greatly reduced the amount of infectious disease in developed countries, infectious disease epidemiologists are more likely to travel to remote areas and developing nations in order to carry out their studies. Epidemiologists encounter minimal risk when they work in laboratories or in the field, because they have received appropriate training and take extensive precautions before interacting with samples or patients.

Work Schedules

Most epidemiologists work full time and have a standard work schedule. Occasionally, epidemiologists may have to work long or irregular hours in order to complete fieldwork or tend to duties during public health emergencies.

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of epidemiologists.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2019

Anthropologists and Archeologists

Anthropologists and archeologists study the origin, development, and behavior of humans.

Master’s degree $63,670

Economists

Economists

Economists collect and analyze data, research trends, and evaluate economic issues for resources, goods, and services.

Master’s degree $105,020

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health.

Bachelor’s degree $71,360

Geographers

Geographers

Geographers study the Earth and the distribution of its land, features, and inhabitants.

Bachelor’s degree $81,540

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Health educators teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. Community health workers collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities.

See How to Become One $46,910

Medical scientists

Medical Scientists

Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health.

Doctoral or professional degree $88,790

Microbiologists

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites.

Bachelor’s degree $75,650

Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.

Political Scientists

Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems.

Master’s degree $122,220

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care and educate patients and the public about various health conditions.

Bachelor’s degree $73,300

Survey Researchers

Survey researchers design and conduct surveys and analyze data.

Master’s degree $59,170

Mathematicians and Statisticians

Mathematicians and statisticians analyze data and apply mathematical and statistical techniques to help solve problems.

Master’s degree $92,030

For more information about epidemiologists, visit

American College of Epidemiology

Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America

For more information about epidemiology careers in the federal government, visit

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Institutes of Health

For public health–related information, visit

American Epidemiological Society

American Public Health Association

Association of State and Territorial Health Officials

National Academy for State Health Policy

Public Health Foundation

CareerOneStop

For a career video on epidemiologists, visit

Epidemiologists

O*NET

Epidemiologists


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Epidemiologists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/epidemiologists.htm (visited ).