One of the great things about public health as a field of study is that earning a public health degree will prepare you for a wide variety of careers.

Some people study public health with the intention of becoming a community health worker and directly interacting with the communities they serve. Others dream of becoming public health program coordinators who design public health initiatives. And others want to become public health educators or researchers, who also play crucial roles in improving the health of their communities.

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One public health career that has been in the limelight in recent years, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic, is epidemiology.

Are you interested in potentially becoming an epidemiologist? Below, we take a closer look at what epidemiology is, what an epidemiologist does, and explore the relationship between epidemiology and public health.

What is Epidemiology?

Epidemiology is, at its heart, the science and study of disease. It is a branch of public health that studies disease and how it spreads amongst human and non-human populations, with the goal of using that understanding to help control and limit the spread of pathogens and other negative health problems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define epidemiology as “the method used to find the causes of health outcomes and diseases in populations. By definition, epidemiology is the study (scientific, systematic, and data-driven) of the distribution (frequency, pattern) and determinants (causes, risk factors) of health-related states and events (not just diseases) in specified populations (neighborhood, school, city, state, country, global).”

As mentioned, though epidemiology is often focused on disease, it also includes other health concerns such as:

  • Environmental exposures (e.g., lead, heavy metals, air pollutants)
  • Foodborne illnesses (e.g., salmonella, E. coli)
  • Injuries (e.g., homicide, suicide, or domestic violence)
  • Non-infectious diseases (e.g., cancer, birth defects)
  • Natural disasters (e.g., hurricanes, earthquakes)
  • And more
5 Types of Determinants of Health

What Does an Epidemiologist Do?

An epidemiologist is a public health worker who is responsible for investigating patterns in illness and injury.

How they do this will depend on the populations they serve and the health challenges they are studying. That being said, epidemiologists will often:

  • Conduct research
  • Collect data
  • Analyze that data
  • Identify patterns and their underlying causes
  • Communicate with other public health workers and policy makers
  • Inform public health programs and initiatives

The end goal of the epidemiologist is to reduce negative health outcomes while increasing positive health outcomes in the communities that they serve.

How Much Does an Epidemiologist Make?

Exactly how much an epidemiologist makes will depend on a number of factors, including the geographic location in which they work, the specific type of organization acting as their employer, and their level of experience.

That being said, the average yearly salary of an epidemiologist in the United States is $107,110 according to Most epidemiologists will earn between $91,853 and $128,308 per year, though higher salaries are possible with increased experience.

How to Become and Epidemiologist

While there are many entry-level epidemiology positions available to those pursuing a degree in public health (i.e., contact tracing, census work, and data entry level positions), you will need to earn a master’s degree if you hope to become an epidemiologist who is in charge of an effort. Most typically, this will be a master’s degree in public health (MPH). During the course of earning your degree, you will gain a thorough understanding of the best research practices and protocols, informing you on everything that you do as an epidemiologist.

Knowing that a master’s degree is required, you will of course need to first earn a bachelor’s degree. Earning a bachelor’s degree in public health can be an excellent choice, as it will directly prepare you for a career in epidemiology and empower you to work entry-level public health positions. This is not the only option though. Other potential undergraduate degrees might include biology or statistics.

Epidemiology In Today’s Healthcare

Epidemiology plays a vital role in today’s healthcare system by providing valuable information for healthcare managers and policymakers. It helps professionals predict health needs, understand health conditions, and identify relationships between the demand and need for healthcare services.

This perspective is crucial for:

  • Monitoring health conditions
  • Assessing the impacts of programs
  • Forming the scientific basis for policy making

It’s also essential for controlling infectious diseases and integrating epidemiology into technology assessment and epidemiological research.

For example, AI-powered machine learning is used for pandemic preparedness and response through more accurate projections in public health. It also identifies emerging areas beyond infectious disease management, such as the impacts of pandemics on mental health or chronic conditions.

In addition, another technology regarded as GeoAI, combines spatial science, machine learning, and high-performance computing to extract knowledge from spatial big data. It is used in environmental epidemiology to model exposure and offers numerous advantages, like incorporating large amounts of data and scalability across different geographic areas.

The Science of Public Health

Epidemiologists play a crucial role in the field of public health, collecting and analyzing data about injury, disease, and other negative health outcomes and using that data to identify trends. Ultimately, the work of epidemiologists helps to control and reduce negative health outcomes and improve the health of their populations. As such, epidemiology is a crucial part of the field of public health, and a worthwhile career to consider.

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