Summary

epidemiologists image
Epidemiologists collect and analyze data, sometimes through interviews, to find the causes of diseases or other health problems.
Quick Facts: Epidemiologists
2014 Median Pay $67,420 per year
$32.41 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Master's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 5,800
Job Outlook, 2014-24 6% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 400

What Epidemiologists Do

Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans. They seek to reduce the risk and occurrence of negative health outcomes through research, community education, and health policy.

Work Environment

Epidemiologists work in offices and laboratories, usually at health departments for state and local governments, in hospitals, and at colleges and universities. Some do fieldwork to conduct interviews and collect samples for analyses. Fieldwork may bring epidemiologists into contact with infectious disease, but the risk is minimal because they receive appropriate training and take extensive precautions before interacting with samples or patients.

How to Become an Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists need at least a master’s degree from an accredited college or university. Most epidemiologists have a master’s degree in public health (MPH) or a related field, and some have completed a doctoral degree in epidemiology or medicine.

Pay

The median annual wage for epidemiologists was $67,420 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of epidemiologists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Epidemiologists are likely to have good job prospects overall.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for epidemiologists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of epidemiologists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about epidemiologists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Epidemiologists Do About this section

Epidemiologists
Epidemiologists monitor infectious diseases, bioterrorism threats, and other problem areas for public health agencies.

Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans. They seek to reduce the risk and occurrence of negative health outcomes through research, community education and health policy.

Duties

Epidemiologists typically do the following:

  • Plan and direct studies of public health problems to find ways to prevent and to treat them if they arise
  • Collect and analyze data—through observations, interviews, and surveys, and by using samples of blood or other bodily fluids—to find the causes of diseases or other health problems
  • Communicate their findings to health practitioners, policymakers, and the public
  • Manage public health programs by planning programs, monitoring their progress, analyzing data, and seeking ways to improve the programs in order to improve public health outcomes
  • Supervise professional, technical, and clerical personnel

Epidemiologists collect and analyze data to investigate health issues. For example, an epidemiologist might collect and analyze demographic data to determine who is at the highest risk for a particular disease. They also may research and investigate the trends in populations of survivors of certain diseases, such as cancer, so that effective treatments can be identified and repeated across the population.

Epidemiologists typically work either in applied public health or in research. Applied epidemiologists work for state and local governments, addressing public health problems directly. They often are involved with education outreach and survey efforts in communities. Research epidemiologists typically work for universities or in affiliation with federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Epidemiologists who work in private industry commonly conduct research for health insurance companies or pharmaceutical companies. Those in nonprofit companies often do public health advocacy work. Epidemiologists involved in research are rarely advocates, because scientific research is expected to be unbiased.

Epidemiologists typically specialize in one or more of the following public health areas:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Public health preparedness and emergency response
  • Maternal and child health
  • Chronic diseases
  • Environmental health
  • Injury
  • Occupational health
  • Behavioral epidemiology
  • Oral health

For more information on occupations that concentrate on the biological workings of disease or the effects of disease on individuals, see the profiles for biochemists and biophysicists, medical scientists, microbiologists, and physicians and surgeons.

Work Environment About this section

Epidemiologists
Field work may require interaction with sick patients, yet safety precautions ensure that the likelihood of exposure to disease is minimal.

Epidemiologists held about 5,800 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most epidemiologists were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals 31%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 22
General medical and surgical hospitals; private 12
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 10
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 10

Epidemiologists typically work in offices and laboratories at health departments for state and local governments, in hospitals, and at colleges and universities. Work environments can vary widely, however, because of the diverse nature of epidemiological specializations. Epidemiologists also may work in the field, where they support emergency actions, or in clinical settings.

Most epidemiologists spend their time studying data and reports in an office setting. Work in laboratories and the field tends to be delegated to specialized scientists and other technical staff. In state and local government public health departments, epidemiologists may be more active in the community and may need to travel to support community education efforts or to administer studies and surveys.

Because modern science has greatly reduced the amount of infectious disease in developed countries, infectious disease epidemiologists are more likely to travel to remote areas and developing nations in order to carry out their studies. Epidemiologists have minimal risk when they work in laboratories or in the field, because they have received appropriate training and take extensive precautions before interacting with samples or patients. 

Work Schedules

Most epidemiologists work full time and have a standard work schedule. Occasionally, epidemiologists may have to work long or irregular hours in order to complete fieldwork or tend to duties during public health emergencies.

How to Become an Epidemiologist About this section

Epidemiologists
Epidemiologists need at least a master’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution.

Epidemiologists need at least a master’s degree from an accredited college or university. Most epidemiologists have a master’s degree in public health (MPH) or a related field, and some have completed a doctoral degree in epidemiology or medicine.

Education

Epidemiologists typically need at least a master’s degree from an accredited college or university. A master’s degree in public health with an emphasis in epidemiology is most common, but epidemiologists can earn degrees in a wide range of related fields and specializations. Epidemiologists who direct research projects—including those who work as postsecondary teachers in colleges and universities—have a Ph.D. or medical degree in their chosen field.

Coursework in epidemiology includes classes in public health, biological and physical sciences, and math and statistics. Classes emphasize statistical methods, causal analysis, and survey design. Advanced courses emphasize multiple regression, medical informatics, reviews of previous biomedical research, comparisons of healthcare systems, and practical applications of data.

Many master’s degree programs in public health, as well as other programs that are specific to epidemiology, require students to complete an internship or practicum that typically ranges from a semester to a year.

Some epidemiologists have both a degree in epidemiology and a medical degree. These scientists often work in clinical capacities. In medical school, students spend most of their first 2 years in laboratories and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, and pathology. Medical students also have the option to choose electives such as medical ethics and medical laws. They also learn to take medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Epidemiologists must use their speaking and writing skills to inform the public and community leaders about public health risks. Clear communication also is required for an epidemiologist to work effectively with other health professionals.

Critical-thinking skills. Epidemiologists analyze data to determine how best to respond to a public health problem or an urgent health-related emergency.

Detail oriented. Epidemiologists must be precise and accurate in moving from observation and interview to conclusions.

Math and statistical skills. Epidemiologists may need advanced math and statistical skills in designing and administering studies and surveys. Skill in using large databases and statistical computer programs may also be important.

Teaching skills. Epidemiologists may be involved in community outreach activities that educate the public about health risks and healthy living.

Pay About this section

Epidemiologists

Median annual wages, May 2014

Life scientists

$70,960

Epidemiologists

$67,420

Total, all occupations

$35,540

 

The median annual wage for epidemiologists was $67,420 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,530, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $112,360.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for epidemiologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences $89,360
General medical and surgical hospitals; private 79,750
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 64,650
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 63,600
State government, excluding education and hospitals 63,200

Most epidemiologists work full time and have a standard work schedule. Occasionally, epidemiologists may have to work long or irregular hours in order to complete fieldwork or tend to duties during public health emergencies.

Job Outlook About this section

Epidemiologists

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Epidemiologists

6%

Life scientists

6%

 

Employment of epidemiologists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Continued improvements in medical recordkeeping will further improve epidemiologists’ ability to track health outcomes, demographic data, and other useful data. Improvements in statistical and mapping software will improve analysis and make epidemiological data more, thereby requiring the expertise of epidemiologists.

Demand for epidemiologists is expected to be strong in state and local governments over the next 10 years, but uncertain budgetary conditions are likely to moderate growth. Greater requirements for hospitals to track health outcomes and local population health concerns may increase the need for epidemiologists in hospitals. 

Job Prospects

Interest in public health and epidemiology has risen over the past decade. The number of master’s degree programs in public health specializing in epidemiology, as well as the number of graduates from these programs, has increased. Some entrants are finding strong competition for jobs, but applicants who are willing to work in any of the various specialties found in this occupation, rather than those tied to one specialty, rarely have trouble finding work. Because epidemiology is a diverse field, opportunities can generally be found if one takes a broad view.

Employment projections data for epidemiologists, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Epidemiologists

19-1041 5,800 6,100 6 400 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of epidemiologists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2014 MEDIAN PAY Help
Anthropologists and archeologists

Anthropologists and Archeologists

Anthropologists and archeologists study the origin, development, and behavior of humans. They examine the cultures, languages, archeological remains, and physical characteristics of people in various parts of the world.

Master's degree $59,280
Environmental scientists and specialists

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health. They may clean up polluted areas, advise policymakers, or work with industry to reduce waste.

Bachelor's degree $66,250
Geographers

Geographers

Geographers study the Earth and its land, features, and inhabitants. They also examine phenomena such as political or cultural structures and study the physical and human geographic characteristics of regions ranging in scale from local to global.

Bachelor's degree $76,420
Health educators

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Health educators teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. They develop and implement strategies to improve the health of individuals and communities. Community health workers collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities.

See How to Become One $42,450
Medical scientists

Medical Scientists

Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health. They often use clinical trials and other investigative methods to reach their findings.

Doctoral or professional degree $79,930
Microbiologists

Microbiologists

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites. They try to understand how these organisms live, grow, and interact with their environments.

Bachelor's degree $67,790
Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $187,200 per year.
Political scientists

Political Scientists

Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems. They research political ideas and analyze governments, policies, political trends, and related issues.

Master's degree $104,920
Registered nurses

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.

Bachelor's degree $66,640
Survey researchers

Survey Researchers

Survey researchers design and conduct surveys and analyze data. Surveys are used to collect factual data, such as employment and salary information, or to ask questions in order to understand people’s opinions, preferences, beliefs, or desires.

Master's degree $49,760

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about epidemiologists, visit

Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America

For more information about epidemiology careers in the federal government, visit

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Institutes of Health

For public health–related information, visit

American Public Health Association

National Academy for State Health Policy

Public Health Foundation

O*NET

Epidemiologists

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Epidemiologists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/epidemiologists.htm (visited February 08, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

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State & Area Data

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2014 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2014, the median annual wage for all workers was $35,540.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2014 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2014, the median annual wage for all workers was $35,547.