Epidemiologists study the pathway disease takes in a given population and the associated effects. Most epidemiologists fall into two basic groups: clinical and research epidemiologists. Research epidemiologists do very specific studies on specific infectious diseases for prevention and control purposes. Clinical epidemiologists work to stop or prevent infectious outbreaks and most often work in medical facilities. Both groups need similar training; however, at some point in their education, they will need to take additional research or clinical classes related to their chosen specialty.
Part 1 of 4: Preparing to Enter an Epidemiology Program
Step 1. Find out the educational requirements of the job
Few schools currently offer undergraduate programs that train epidemiologists. Because there is no orthodox route to becoming an epidemiologist, many enter the study of epidemiology after earning a degree such as Doctor of Medicine, Master of Public Health, Doctor of Public Health, or Doctor of Pharmacy.
Some medically oriented programs have begun offering degrees for a Master of Science in Epidemiology. Admission to one of these programs could accelerate the path to your goal of becoming an epidemiologist
Step 2. Master statistical analysis
Epidemiologists are expected to process large amounts of statistical data on populations and the pathogens that affect them. Based on these analyzes, an epidemiologist might recommend or conduct research on prevention, medication, or education about a particular health problem in a population.
Step 3. Take a Microsoft Excel course
Epidemiologists draw conclusions about health problems by looking at data or large populations from case studies or groups. Many epidemiological programs use mathematical functions in Excel to understand and manipulate medical data. Being easy with data analysis software will give you an edge over your competition.
Step 4. Stay up-to-date with public health medicine
By reading about current health issues and the way it is managed, you will become familiar with trends in the epidemiological world. This type of reading is also helpful in developing your professional intuition, which will help you react more competently to new information that may be presented to you.
Step 5. Take the Quantitative Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or improve your score
The statistical nature of most epidemiology programs virtually guarantees that application boards will request that you have a high quantitative score on your GRE. Solve practice tests, complete study guides, and take (or retake) the test for a competitive score.
Step 6. Work or volunteer in a clinical setting
Even in an environment as remote as a laboratory, epidemiologists are expected to recognize and respond appropriately to emergency situations. Working in a clinical setting (for example, in an emergency room) can help you develop more grace under pressure, which can be critical when working with dangerous pathogens.
You can also use this experience to strengthen your application to an epidemiology program
Step 7. Obtain a graduate degree
Many programs look for candidates who have earned a master's degree in a related field, such as public health. A degree in a medical field, such as medicine or pharmacy, will open the door to higher-paying and responsible positions such as epidemiology, since these people will have the ability to work, diagnose, and prescribe treatment.
People with a doctorate, especially in the medical or medicine-related field, are often strong candidates for work in larger facilities, for example in a medical laboratory or hospital
Step 8. Get a head start with biostatistics
Most graduate programs in epidemiology will have specific courses in biostatistics (or the study or application of statistics to biological information and research). If there are undergraduate courses related to biostatistics, taking them before your graduate studies will help you in your future learning in this field.
Part 2 of 4: Choosing the Right Program
Step 1. Find suitable epidemiology programs
There are many factors to consider when choosing a graduate program in epidemiology. Take some time to think about the areas that interest you most in the field. If the epidemiology programs at prospective schools orient the research in the direction of your interests, that could be an indication of a good fit.
Step 2. Find out and research the teachers
Once you've narrowed your perspectives down to a few programs, you can begin to vet and research individual faculty members. These professors will be experts in various aspects of epidemiology, and some may even end up being your academic advisors, should you enter the program.
- Check blogs or teacher ratings to see what kind of reputation the faculty has. If many people complain that there is not enough guidance in the program or that graduate students are mistreated, you should take that into account.
- You may want to choose a few professors who you think would make good graduate advisers as you study and conduct your own research.
Step 3. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the different programs
Ultimately, your education will depend on what you do. Some people benefit more from a smaller, more intimate setting, while others thrive in a larger context. This is a matter of taste; however, the strength of a program is not. Some organizations have classified the main epidemiological programs according to criteria in order to help young medical professionals find the right option. Check the Public Health Online rankings at:
Step 4. Organize your application materials
You will need at least your GRE test results, in addition to your application form; however, the GRE requirement may be waived for medical students who submit MCAT results. Other requirements are generally:
- personal statement or statement of purpose
- academic records (university or medical school)
- signed recommendation letters
Step 5. Prepare your wallet
You will have to pay the credit hour charges associated with your program; however, in order to be considered for enrollment, you may also have to pay an application fee. These can differ significantly from program to program; however, you should expect to pay between $ 60 and $ 100.
Step 6. Apply to the program of your choice
The application process to many of these programs is very complicated and you can be disqualified from being accepted if you miss a step or a document. Pay close attention to the application process according to what the schools that interest you the most tell you.
If you are still a student or if you recently graduated from college, you may want to speak with a guidance counselor about the application process. Counselors often have experience with these things, and if they don't, they can point you to someone who can guide and help you
Part 3 of 4: Earn an Epidemiology Degree
Step 1. Determine areas of interest within the research literature
While taking your graduate courses in epidemiology, you are expected to read a lot of literature on related topics. This research will familiarize you with the methodologies and practices involved in specific areas of epidemiology and whether or not you really like working in those areas.
Is there any aspect of the implementation that you find tedious or overwhelming? Are you anxious about the idea of working with viral pathogens in the field? Your reading will help you discern what is best for you
Step 2. Identify your ideal work environment
During the course of the epidemiology program, you are expected to perform both clinical and research-related tasks. You may even get a chance to do field work. So your experiences with these kinds of situations should result in the kind of work environment you might want to be in after graduation.
Step 3. Ask professors and colleagues about their professional experiences
It's easy to get carried away by romantic notions about the medical profession as seen in pop culture; however, reality can differ greatly from expectations. Thus, your professors and colleagues will be an excellent resource for learning more about epidemiology work in the real world. Some jobs you can ask about are:
- applied epidemiologist in a state agency
- infection control epidemiologist in a hospital or medical laboratory
- doctor of epidemiology at a university
- veterinary epidemiologist
Step 4. Satisfy the program requirements
These requirements can vary quite a bit between programs. If you don't meet the standards your university sets, you may have to retake a course or rewrite an important document, such as a thesis or scholarship application. The main areas that you will focus on in your epidemiology studies are:
- quantitative methods for solving public health and clinical medicine problems
- data management
- clinical research methodologies
- disease detection methodologies
Step 5. Complete your thesis or scholarship application
In addition to the normal class requirements, the vast majority of graduate programs will require you to complete a grant application or a peer-reviewed thesis intended for publication. Once you reach that final condition, you are ready to enter the epidemiological workforce.
Part 4 of 4: Finding a Job as an Epidemiologist
Step 1. Take advantage of the resources of the university you are graduating from
You may have had a mentor at your university or a professor with whom you worked closely. These resources will often be ideal people to ask about job opportunities. You could ask the following:
- "Where have the other graduates of our epidemiology program found work?"
- "Is there someone I can refer to to continue my research?"
- "Do you happen to have a colleague at (name of prospective company, agency, or lab) with whom you could talk about job opportunities?"
Step 2. Consider companies that specialize in your area of interest
This includes government agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Think about the research you particularly enjoyed while earning your degree. With what organizations were these researchers affiliated? This could put you on the path to your new workplace.
Step 3. Review public announcements
The American College of Epidemiology has a full section of job postings for many different agencies. Check them out to see if they might be right for you.
Step 4. Attend professional conferences
In these types of conferences you will have the opportunity to make many connections, and you could even reconnect with previous friends or colleagues who might recommend you for a job. You should also use these events to find out about any changes in the epidemiological community that may influence your research or job search.
Step 5. Take into account the pharmaceutical products associated with the research that are in your specialty
Some experts estimate that the highest paying jobs in epidemiology are in the fields of medical manufacturing and pharmaceuticals. You could get this type of job thanks to the knowledge about specific pharmaceuticals that you acquired during the course of your studies.
- Keep up with your volunteer opportunities. Employers value more those who have direct experience in their chosen field and highly encourage volunteer activities in their employees.
- Study carefully the work of renowned epidemiologists to inspire and guide you. Learn from masters like Hippocrates, considered the founder of modern medicine. The oath that doctors take today bears his name. You might also consider John Snow, who is called the "Father of Epidemiology" because of the work he did during the cholera outbreak in the 19th century.
- Check online medical journals and publications for recent epidemiology topics and studies. Keeping up-to-date on topics will be an important part of your future job as an epidemiologist.
- Focus on the positives of your career choice when the going gets tough. Epidemiology can be a very rewarding career. People who work in this field save lives by finding better health solutions to problems that affect entire populations.
- Try a free OpenCourseWare course in epidemiology to see if it is something you would like to study in depth. Johns Hopkins University has several courses.