An epidemiologist studies the origins of diseases and analyzes how diseases are geographically distributed and passed from one individual to another. Master's and doctoral degree programs for these professionals might be available under the titles of either epidemiology or public health.
Students in these programs explore concepts and principles from a variety of disciplines, such as nutrition, epidemiology, biostatistics, psychology, physiology, industrial hygiene and medicine. They also develop advanced skills vital to the design and execution of epidemiologic research, which allows them to learn more about the etiology and distribution of diseases and their control and prevention. Some institutions offer a joint master's and doctoral program.
The Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. (CBIC) offers voluntary certification for professionals in this field.
Master's Degree in Epidemiology
Master's degree programs may confer a Master of Science in Epidemiology or a Master of Public Health, and coursework in these programs may be similar. Applicants to these two-year programs must have a bachelor's degree in a related field. The curriculum typically includes the following topics:
- Clinical trial design and conduct
- Epidemiologic theory
- Ethics in scientific research
- Infectious diseases
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Ph.D. in Epidemiology
Doctoral programs may confer a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Epidemiology, a Doctor of Public Health (DPH) or a joint MD/Ph.D in Epidemiology. Applicants must have a master's degree, and accepted students can expect to spend three to five years in the program. The doctorate-level curriculum provides flexibility, allowing students to incorporate disease-specific training in their areas of interest, such as infectious, cardiovascular, cancer and musculoskeletal diseases. Students are required to conduct independent research to complete a dissertation. Coursework might include:
- Health and human rights
- Ethics in public health
- Research methods
- Community health and prevention
- Epidemiologic theory
Employment and Salary Information
Graduates with a master's degree in epidemiology are prepared to pursue careers in both clinical and research-based settings. Possible employers include government health agencies, health departments, research universities and other similar organizations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected employment opportunities in the field to grow at a rate of 6% during the 2014-2024 decade (www.bls.gov). As of May 2015, the BLS reported that epidemiologists in the U.S. earned an average annual salary of $76,900.
Popular Career Options
Graduates with a doctorate in epidemiology are prepared for careers in industrial research, academic research and education. Specific job opportunities include:
- Infection control practitioner
- State epidemiologist
- University faculty
- Research epidemiologist
- Communicable disease specialist
The Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. (CBIC) provides a voluntary certification option for professionals within the infection control industry. Eligibility requirements for the CBIC certification exam include a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Candidates lacking the formal education of a bachelor's degree may qualify if they are registered medical technologists, nurses, clinical laboratory scientists or physicians. Educational requirements can also be waived with a certain level of professional practice experience. Certified professionals are required to retest every five years to maintain and renew their certification.
Aspiring epidemiologists can earn either a master's or a doctoral degree in the field. Both programs include advanced study of the origins and distribution of disease, and students who finish have multiple career options as well as the opportunity to take a voluntary certification exam.