Is a PhD in Epidemiology Worth It?

Jul 24, 2018

A doctorate in epidemiology gives prospective graduates the tools and skills necessary to help curb the spread of disease and find the root cause for illnesses that plague specific sectors of a population. Doctoral students also gain valuable experience within a laboratory setting during their PhD studies, and they take classes in applied logistics regression, industrial hygiene, advanced epidemiology, and genetics. In this article, we'll take a look at five careers that are available to those with a doctoral degree in epidemiology.

PhD in Epidemiology Jobs

Students who pursue a PhD in epidemiology take courses providing information on aging, cardiovascular disease, pharmacoepidemiology, cancer, infectious diseases, and epidemiological methods. Through this coursework they will learn not only how to determine the causes for various human diseases, but also the ways in which diseases can be prevented and their spread minimized. Students will be able to use mathematical skills gained through their degree program to determine the differences in risks of diseases from one group to another and pinpoint the root cause of this difference. After graduating, PhD students will obtain careers in academia, research, industry, and government. Let's look at five such careers and their median salary and job growth.

Job Title Median Salary (2017)* Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Epidemiologists $69,660 9%
Survey Researchers $54,270 2%
Genetic Counselors $77,480 29%
Health Educators and Community Health Workers $45,360 16%
Medical Scientists $82,090 13%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

PhD in Epidemiology Jobs


Epidemiologists study diseases within populations and analyze data that has been collected to pinpoint the root cause of disease outbreaks. Through this work, they are able to aid in the development of new medical research or improve upon current clinical research, which is then used to develop better preventative healthcare. Given that job seekers must have at least a master's, those with a PhD will have the educational background and experience necessary to have a leg up on the competition.

Survey Researchers

Survey researchers collect and analyze data related to survey questions to create surveys that ask questions effectively and produce helpful answers. Additionally, they create focus groups to then test their surveys to ensure that questions are easily understood among their target group. They determine the best data collection methods and analyze the outcome of prior surveys to improve upon future surveys. Topics that are studied are wide-ranging, but often include those related to health, like disease prevalence. Those with a PhD in epidemiology completed extensive coursework in statistical analysis and data collection, so they have the knowledge necessary to conduct medical and human health surveys and analyze the results fully. Although a master's is the standard educational requirement, having a PhD in epidemiology will enable a survey researcher to focus on specific epidemiological topics in a more effective manner.

Genetic Counselors

Genetic counselors help prospective clients understand how birth defects, medical conditions, and genes carry on through family members. They make individuals aware of the risk for inheriting disease and provide treatment options. Additionally, they make suggestions about lifestyle changes in order to help clients lower their risk for certain health problems down the road. These same individuals make their clients aware of the potential risks associated with genetic testing and provide them with a detailed report once testing is done. Through studying genetics and various health factors associated with the contraction and spread of disease, those who have a PhD in epidemiology may be able to provide more effective treatment options.

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Health educators and community health workers assist others in finding important health services and aid the healthcare community by training healthcare professionals and health workers. Doctoral graduates use their understanding of illnesses and diseases and how they spread to educate others on how to deal with various health issues and provide advice on preventive measures. Individuals within this profession also aid in the creation of health programs and help to generate materials that are aimed at educating the public.

Medical Scientists

Medical scientists spend the majority of their time studying conditions and diseases with the specific purpose of helping to improve human health. They collect data on medical devices and medications to determine the risks associated with them. Furthermore, they meet with other experts to gain insight into their current knowledge related to diseases and fill in the gaps to ensure they have the most recent information on the subject. They create and implement clinical studies and design the systems used for data collection during said trials. Having a PhD in epidemiology will allow medical scientists to have a deeper understanding of not just how drugs and healthcare programs can impact patients, but will also give them more of the knowledge necessary to test the effects on specific groups of people.

PhD in Epidemiology Admission Requirements

Prospective doctoral students who wish to enter into an epidemiology program typically need to have an undergraduate degree in epidemiology or similar field with a 3.0 GPA or better. Applicants also have to take a GRE exam and score within the sixtieth percentile or higher, though this can vary depending on the degree program. Additionally, applicants must meet all program course prerequisites and typically have at least three letters of recommendation along with a statement of purpose. Tuition is usually covered within graduate programs through a four to five-year aid package, which is often supplemented through teaching/research assistantships, grants, scholarships, fellowships, and/or stipends.

Through coursework in PhD in epidemiology program, graduate students gain a good understanding of data collection and analysis and have the knowledge necessary to work toward solving real world health issues. Graduates will be able to assist government entities, private industries, and the public in ensuring the health and safety of others.

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