Communicable disease has been a scourge on mankind since our ancestors were drawing bison and bear on the walls of caves. That said, modern public health has managed to make major inroads in controlling communicable disease. Epidemiologists are scientists who investigate, evaluate and make suggestions regarding preventing the spread of communicable or chronic diseases. Almost all of these public health professionals have earned at least a master's in public health, and usually come from a technical background, typically holding undergraduate degrees in biology, biochemistry, zoology, microbiology, nursing or premed. Most epidemiologists are employed by state or local governments, but many work for the federal government or private industry.
Meetings and Phone Calls
Public health careers by their nature tend to involve a great deal of collaboration and many meetings with colleagues, supervisors and government officials, and epidemiology is no exception. So management-level epidemiologists will likely spend a lot of time in meetings and conference calls.
Disease surveillance means being aware of any new reports of communicable diseases. Epidemiologists set up disease surveillance systems working with hospitals and other health care professionals so they can find out about any urgent public health issues as soon as possible. Almost all of these surveillance systems are managed using electronic databases, which means that public health professionals can just log into the database to keep up with any developments or add information as necessary.
Lab work may not be terribly exciting, but it is where the rubber hits the road in epidemiology, and many epidemiologists spend a good bit of their time in the lab. Lab responsibilities range from taking and analyzing body fluid and tissue samples from animals and humans to culturing bacteria, fungi or viruses for further research. Working in an epidemiology lab often involves working with high-powered microscopes and other software-based imaging systems.
Getting the Word Out
Epidemiologists, especially senior epidemiologists, are also responsible for reporting their findings to public health authorities and making sure the public is made aware of any potential risks to health. They also frequently prepare and give presentations based on their research at major scientific and medical conferences. Most epidemiologists spend a good bit of time preparing research for publication and applying for grants to support their research as well.
2016 Salary Information for Epidemiologists
Epidemiologists earned a median annual salary of $70,820 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, epidemiologists earned a 25th percentile salary of $56,780, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $89,840, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 6,100 people were employed in the U.S. as epidemiologists.
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