A program that focuses on the scientific study of disease, disability, and trauma patterns within and across populations and the development of health management mechanisms to prevent and control disease outbreaks and injurious behaviors. Includes instruction in biostatistics, biochemistry, molecular biology, immunology, disease and injury determinants, genetic disease and disability factors, behavioral studies, health services research, environmental disease and injury factors, and population studies.

Epidemiologists work to understand the causes and effects of diseases and threats that impact populations.

In many ways, epidemiology is the science of disaster; those who work in the discipline focus on all kinds of dangerous phenomena, combing through data to find patterns and develop solutions. These threats include the spread of chemicals or environmental pollutants, infectious diseases, violent crimes, upticks in cancers or birth defects specific to certain populations, and natural disasters. If it impacts a large group of people in a harmful way, some epidemiologist is studying it; most specialize in a certain type of threat, like a pandemic.

In many ways, epidemiologists are data detectives who must use their analytical skills to find where a problem originated, its impact, and the best way to address it. They plan studies and create surveys to analyze how certain issues affect different demographics; sometimes they will track down specific populations in order to determine what curative actions prove most effective.

Work in epidemiology may include...

  • Tracing the path of a disease or threatening pattern
  • Collecting data and analyzing statistics
  • Identifying common traits of diseases present in a population
  • Developing public health programs
  • Recommending containment strategies to officials

State and city health departments hire epidemiologists, as do federal agencies such as the CDC. They frequently work for hospitals, universities, or pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines. Many work in office environments, where they interpret existing data; researchers and specialists are more frequently found in labs, analyzing samples and compiling findings. Clinical epidemiologists often work in disaster zones and emergency situations, and are most likely to travel as part of relief efforts. Some workers trained in epidemiology work for various nonprofits, helping them to reach and understand the issues affecting different groups.

Students who want to pursue epidemiology tend to start taking relevant courses at the undergraduate level. Declaring a focus in biology, public health, or statistics can be a great start and provide students with the skills and contexts they will need to succeed in the field. While graduates with a Bachelor's degree can sometimes find jobs in their area of interest without further study, epidemiologists usually have a Master's in Public Health (MPH) and often supplement their knowledge with additional degrees. Students in MPH programs have the opportunity to complete an internship in their area of interest, which is a great way to see what epidemiologists do firsthand. Those who want to conduct research or teach tend to pursue PhD programs, and those who want to work with patients go to medical school.

Epidemiologists have been in the spotlight lately, and for good reason; their work helps us to understand and combat dangerous issues. If you want to delve deep into disaster data, maybe this is the career for you.

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