Career as Epidemiologist

Career as Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists study the causes of illness, and how to prevent them. Rather than working with individual patients, epidemiologists look at whole populations in order to help reduce and prevent illnesses such as HIV, cholera and cancer. Epidemiologists also look at the bigger picture, taking note of issues such as medical, social, environmental and economic factors that could affect disease.

Epidemiologists collect a large amount of information as part of a research study, and use computers and statistics programmes to help find the patterns of illnesses. These patterns then give clues as to the causes or different issues affecting illnesses. For example, it was epidemiologists who first drew the links between smoking and lung cancer.Once a pattern of illness has been found, and the causes narrowed down, epidemiologists will look at good methods of prevention, diagnosis and treatment. They will look at the best solutions, and come up with guidelines for health policies and practices to help reduce disease.

Epidemiologists need to be very good at conducting research, and using and understanding statistics. They need a sound medical knowledge, and also need to be good at report writing. As part of their job, epidemiologists frequently use computer programmes to analyse statistics. Work environments are generally in an office or laboratory. However, for some studies, on-site research and travel may be needed.

Advantages of this career include improving public health and making important discoveries. The drawbacks are issues such as spending large amounts of time working with statistics, and the frustrations of governments or the population not following health advice or practices.


Educational qualifications

An undergraduate, followed by a Masters degree in epidemiology or health statistics is required in order to become an epidemiologist. Undergraduate  should be in a medical field such as nursing or medicine.

Personal qualities

An epidemiologist should:
enjoy working with details
be logical
be good with numbers and statistics
have good written communication skills
have an aptitude for scientific thinking

Job opportunities

Job opportunities are good, as few people have the skills and education for this field. These are seen to increase in future, as the study of disease becomes increasingly important.

Common employers include government health departments, environmental agencies, hospitals, international and local research organisations, and universities.

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