People get sick due to numerous causes, such as infectious diseases, environmental exposure, hereditary disease, or something else. An epidemiologist has one of the most important public health careers, studying the distribution and causes of diseases. In essence, the goal of epidemiology is to uncover why certain people become ill and to help develop strategies to stop the spread of diseases. While you don’t need a PhD degree to become an epidemiologist, earning your doctoral degree in public health is a great way to get started in the field of epidemiology.
What Is Epidemiology?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines epidemiology as the “study of distribution and determinants of health-related states among specified populations and the application of that study to the control of health problems.”1 By working to understand diseases and their frequency, patterns, causes, risk factors, and the communities and populations they impact, epidemiologists play a vital role in public health programs and agencies.
To uncover the root causes of disease and why they impact certain people, these public health professionals work to collect information key to stopping disease outbreaks, identifying environmental and occupational hazards, understanding how our lifestyle and genetics impact our health, and much more.
What Does an Epidemiologist Do?
To understand and solve health problems from contagious disease outbreaks, an epidemiologist must follow a set of steps to identify the problem and its source, and then develop strategies to stop the outbreak and prevent the occurrence of future outbreaks.2 The epidemiological triangle is one model professionals use to study health problems from infectious diseases. Data collection—or surveillance—is a key aspect of an epidemiologist’s work. This involves finding cases of a disease and gathering information on who it’s affecting. Individuals in these public health careers conduct surveillance on a variety of health problems from contagious diseases, such as influenza or measles, as well as non-communicable diseases, such as cancer or diabetes.
Once epidemiologists have collected their data, they can assess it and use the information they’ve gathered to determine how and why a health problem is occurring, and then help develop solutions and interventions to stop and prevent the problem.
Epidemiologists in the Field
There are many kinds of epidemiologists studying both infectious and chronic diseases, with areas of specialization including cancer; cardiovascular disease; infectious disease; genetic and reproductive; and environmental and occupational epidemiology.3 For someone with a PhD degree in epidemiology, their field of specialization can depend on what they studied in their public health degree program.
In the event of disease outbreaks, field epidemiologists with the World Health Organization (WHO) set up early warning surveillance systems, investigate and respond to humanitarian emergencies, determine who is at highest risk, and work to protect global health security and vulnerable populations.4
Epidemiologists with public health careers studying cancer examine how certain cancers are distributed by age, sex, economic status, and other factors which can determine its prevalence.5
A Career in Epidemiology
Earning your master’s or PhD in Epidemiology can give you the education and skills you need to pursue one of these important public health careers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for epidemiologists in the U.S. in 2017 was $69,660.6 Epidemiologists working in scientific research and development services earned a median annual wage of $103,580, while those in hospitals earned $80,680. State and local government epidemiologists earned from $62,370 to $64,690 per year.
It All Starts With a Public Health Degree
Walden University’s PhD in Public Health program can help you join the global health community of epidemiologists fighting disease outbreaks. With Walden’s PhD in Public Health program with a specialization in Epidemiology, you can focus your studies on topics such as disease prevention, surveillance, research, and more. As you earn your doctorate in public health, you can build the skills and conduct the important research you’ll need to become an effective epidemiologist.
Once you’ve earned your PhD degree in public health, you will have the credentials to pursue a career as a health department director, public health information officer, epidemiologist, health policy advisor, public health researcher, and much more. If you’re ready to promote positive social change and help shape health policies in communities around the world, earning a PhD in Public Health from Walden can be a great first step.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering a PhD in Public Health program with a specialization in Epidemiology. Expand your career options and earn your doctoral degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.