What Epidemiologists Do
Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans.
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.
The median annual wage for epidemiologists was $70,990 in May 2019.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
For more information about epidemiologists, visit
Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists
For more information about epidemiology careers in the federal government, visit
For public health–related information, visit
For a career video on epidemiologists, visit
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 ).