To begin epidemiologist training, interested candidates typically pursue a bachelor's degree in a biological science. This is followed by a graduate program in epidemiology which includes coursework in biostatistics, behavioral studies, health services research, immunology and much more. Epidemiologists can advance their careers with continued education in epidemiology courses and certification programs offered through the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.
Most epidemiologist positions require a minimum of a master's degree. Depending on the college or university program, graduating epidemiology students earn a Master of Public Health or a Master of Science. Some courses may be completed online depending on the school.
Master's Degree in Epidemiology
Usually research-based, this program provides students with an advanced understanding of epidemiologic methods in analysis and biological experimentation. Students discover the skills needed to design and conduct studies of the distribution, prevention and control of disease in society. Through both didactic and experiential learning formats, epidemiology curriculums usually include courses in research methods, biostatistics, disease prevention and biomedical ethics.
Students can customize their learning through elective courses in epidemiological specialties, such as genetic epidemiology, cancer epidemiology, neuroepidemiology and infectious disease epidemiology. Most programs require a final thesis. Graduates are prepared for positions as researchers, clinical investigators, research administrators and educators with universities, government health agencies and other health organizations.
Ph.D. in Epidemiology
A Ph.D. program prepares graduates to assume research positions in academia or in government, industry or clinical settings. With a balance of coursework that can be tailored to the individual's interests, doctoral students narrow their focus to a specialty area such as molecular epidemiology, cardiovascular diseases, nutritional epidemiology or cancer epidemiology. As a requirement of graduation students must complete independent research and report their findings in a doctoral dissertation.
Popular Career Options
Graduate students gain a variety of research experience during their years of academic study. This experience is sufficient enough to fulfill prior experience requirements for most entry-level epidemiologist positions with small health agencies or jobs as research assistants for a variety of organizations. More advanced positions, such as a level II epidemiologist, often requires two or more years of experience. Upper level management positions can require up to ten years of active research experience in the industry.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts an employment growth of 6% for epidemiologists for the years 2014 through 2024. The BLS also notes that the mean annual wage for these workers was $76,900 in 2015.
The Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. (CBIC) offers a voluntary certification for all professionals in the infection control and epidemiology industry. The certification exam allows epidemiologists to demonstrate a mastery of knowledge with the field and plays a role in increasing an individual's professional credibility with both employers and colleagues. Recertification is required every five years.
A number of workshops and seminars are sponsored each year through universities and research institutions. In addition, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) offers a variety of education programs from entry-level classroom training to regional conferences and online seminars. The annual national conference focuses on emerging issues in infection control and draws industry professionals from all over the world. Serving as a common meeting place for novice and experienced infection control professionals alike, this 4-day conference is held in a major U.S. city each year. Conference participants take advantage of learning and networking opportunities through various exhibits, workshops, open forums, panel discussions and social events. Sessions cover the latest technologies, research and information in the fields of infection control and prevention, disinfection and sterilization, epidemiology and disaster preparedness.
Epidemiologists who perform laboratory research may require knowledge and credentials similar to a licensed physician in order to administer drugs to patients during clinical trials. Excellent written and oral communication skills are needed in order to work closely with other health professionals and report research findings.
Students who are interested in a career in epidemiology will often pursue a master's or PhD degree in the related field. Upon graduation, there is a voluntary certification available that can create more opportunities for students.