Public Health Microbiologist: Job Description, Duties and Salary

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a public health microbiologist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and necessary skills to find out if this is the career for you.

Public health microbiologists often work for government, where they are responsible for preventing and controlling diseases and epidemics, such as tuberculosis and diphtheria. Depending on the industry, salaries for this profession can vary significantly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, microbiologists earned median wages ranging from less than $39,000 to over $125,000 a year as of 2015.

Essential Information

Public health microbiologists are in charge of identifying and characterizing microorganisms that directly affect the health and wellness of communities. The research they conduct is used to aid in the control and prevention of communicable diseases. Most states require that this position be held by someone with a degree in microbiology, with graduate degrees required for advanced positions.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in biology or microbiology minimum requirement; further education may be required for advanced positions
Other Requirements Strong analytical skills and compliance with laws pertaining to public health labs; certification may also be required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for all microbiologists
Median Salary (2015)* $67,550 for all microbiologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Public Health Microbiologist Job Description

Controlling epidemics and pandemics is of the utmost priority for public health microbiologists. A public health microbiologist contributes to the prevention of communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis, plague, diphtheria, rabies, foodborne illnesses and sexually transmitted diseases, by observing and researching the relationships between microorganisms, diseases and public health. They may trace the origins of outbreaks or monitor prevalence and spread of diseases already endemic in a community, whether the diseases are spread from person to person or from animals to humans.

Public health microbiologists often work for a government health department, and may work under the supervision of the department's senior public health microbiologist. Public health microbiologists for local or state departments typically need a bachelor's degree in biology or microbiology, but graduate or even postdoctoral study in microbiology may be required for advanced positions. The abilities to interpret and analyze data, as well as understand and draw conclusions about issues that pertain to public health, are essential to become a successful public health microbiologist.

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Job Duties of a Public Health Microbiologist

Public health microbiologists use a wide variety of laboratory techniques and are responsible for the day-to-day operation and maintenance of laboratory equipment used to perform tests for communicable diseases. They must record test results and maintain highly accurate records for research. Part of this research includes the study of how certain bacteria grow, develop, spread and react to antibiotics; other research may focus on viruses, mycobacteria, parasites or blood antibodies. Public health microbiologists may also test animals or animal remains for pathogens that can spread rabies, Lyme disease, West Nile Virus or other diseases to humans.

Microbiologists are also expected to comply with all federal, state and local laws that apply to public health laboratories. Individual state departments of public health offer various training opportunities for public health microbiologists, and most require certification.

Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for microbiologists was $67,550 in May 2015. The top ten percent earned $125,200 or more, while the bottom ten percent earned $38,810 or less. Maryland was one of the top-paying state for microbiologists, paying an average annual salary of $93,650. Those who worked for the federal executive branch tended to earn more than those who worked in other industries, with an average salary of $104,210.

The minimum requirement for becoming a public health microbiologist is a bachelor's degree in a related field, but more advanced positions tend to require graduate work as well. Familiarity with laboratory practices and research methods are essential for this profession.


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