Become a Forensic Epidemiologist: Education and Career Information

Find out how to become a forensic epidemiologist. Research the education, training, and experience required for starting a career in forensic epidemiology. View article »

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Video Transcript

Forensic Epidemiologists

Forensic epidemiologists investigate possible criminal acts involving biological and chemical agents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that during biological threats, forensic epidemiologists are usually part of an interagency team composed of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), local law enforcement and other essential personnel.

In addition to working in labs, forensic epidemiologists may also work in the field. The majority of epidemiologists work on a full-time basis. Some overtime or irregular hours may be required occasionally. When crises occur, forensic epidemiologists must travel to the crisis sites, be they local or long-distance. Strict precautions are taken when working in the field in order to minimize exposure to dangerous agents and toxic materials.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree; doctoral or medical degrees common
Degree Field Epidemiology, medicine, public health, or a related field
Key Skills Critical thinking, writing, public speaking, interpersonal communication, math, and statistical skills; biological evidence and specimen collection; photography
Salary $69,450 (2015 median for all epidemiologists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, O*Net OnLine.

A master's degree in epidemiology, public health or a related field is required, though some epidemiologists may have doctoral or medical degrees. These professionals should have critical thinking and writing abilities, as well as public speaking and interpersonal communication skills. Additionally, they should have math and statistical skills and working knowledge of biological evidence collection and specimen collection. Photography skills are also needed. According to 2015 earnings data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for epidemiologists was $69,450.

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Steps to Be a Forensic Epidemiologist

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Because forensic epidemiology involves a multidisciplinary approach to criminal investigation, students planning to pursue careers in the field should focus their undergraduate education on a mixture of several disciplines, such as public health, forensics, biology, psychology and law enforcement. Students may also want to take lab-intensive courses including biology, chemistry and physiology. Students who pursue a minor in law enforcement or criminal justice are usually required to take courses in legal studies and sociology.

It is important to look for additional training opportunities. The CDC provides information on a variety of independent training programs. Students can also find free learning products focused on epidemiology from the CDC website.

Students who are studying epidemiology can review student job boards to find work opportunities. Campus career services, school department notices and government websites are just a few places students can find job listings. The CDC also has employment programs for students, which could lead to permanent positions after they graduate.

Step 2: Obtain a Master's Degree

Many forensic epidemiologists work for government health agencies and often coordinate with local and federal law enforcement in criminal investigations. These epidemiologists need a master's degree from an accredited public health program, usually with a specialization in epidemiology. Programs typically offer courses in biostatistics, health behavior and infectious disease control. Students may also be required to complete a practicum in which they assist with health assessment procedures, write grants and create training programs on health awareness.

Graduate degree programs usually offer students a choice between creating their own practicum experiences and participating in structured internships offered by the school. Programs that offer flexible experience options may even have some opportunities for working overseas. Government organizations may also offer internships for graduates. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sponsors the Emerging Leaders Program, which is a 2-year internship that is designed for individuals who have completed a master's program.

Step 3: Pursue Additional Training

Forensic epidemiologists investigate a variety of threats, so they need to be prepared for potential bioterrorism events. Some universities offer a course designed to teach students how to detect bioterrorism from a forensic epidemiology perspective. Some organizations also offer bioterrorism courses, which can be taken by anyone who may be responding to a bioterrorism event. CDC also has training modules for epidemiologists who might be working with specific bioterror agents, such as anthrax or smallpox.

Organizations like the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) have annual conferences and webinars on specific surveillance issues. Topics include HIV/AIDS, food-borne diseases, hospital-acquired infections, immunizations, vaccinations and water-borne diseases.

Forensic epidemiologists need at least a master's degree in epidemiology, public health, or a related field, though some have medical or doctoral degrees.

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