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Becoming an Epidemiologist

What Does an Epidemiologist Do?

epidemiologist with technicians in lab

Epidemiologists essentially function as detectives who research the causes and consequences of illness and disease on a population basis. Their research informs public health policies and disease management strategies throughout all countries around the world. By discerning how and why disease and illness occur, epidemiologists help to prevent their spread and recurrence.

Epidemiologists study the relationship between medical conditions and the events that trigger their spread by collecting and analyzing data about public health and the behavior of various diseases. In addition to studying the origin and spread of contagious life-threatening diseases, they also analyze medical conditions that occur as a result of generalized exposure, such as foodborne illnesses. Epidemiologists can work within a variety of sub-specialty fields, including social, environmental, genetic, and psychological epidemiology.

For an epidemiologist, research into questions of great societal significance represents a typical day’s work. Although epidemiologists are not often in the public eye, they still receive immense personal satisfaction from solving the medical mysteries that plague the world.

Workplace Details

Over half of all epidemiologists work for government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. These professionals can also work for private research facilities, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and universities. Generalizing, epidemiologists often work in clean, well-lit offices and laboratories during regular business hours. Fieldwork or public health emergencies may occasionally require work on nights, weekends or holidays. However, in most cases, the work of an epidemiologist is considered low risk, with the exception of those some epidemiologists who work directly with dangerous chemicals or pathogens.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$94950
Texas
$88600
Maryland
$81290
Colorado
$68000
Georgia
$64920

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

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ALABAMA

Median Salary: 
$66,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $46,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 0%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

ALASKA

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

ARIZONA

Median Salary: 
$50,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,300

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$41,070$49,130$83,910

ARKANSAS

Median Salary: 
$58,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $47,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $86,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$44,520$56,690$83,200

CALIFORNIA

Median Salary: 
$86,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $178,700

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$51,010$80,350$102,440
San Francisco Bay$68,770$105,640Over $187,200
Sacramento$58,880$80,060$116,750

COLORADO

Median Salary: 
$64,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$55,670$65,240$78,720

CONNECTICUT

Median Salary: 
$85,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $58,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $118,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: -1%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

DELAWARE

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Median Salary: 
$91,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $58,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $183,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$58,650$92,030$141,430

FLORIDA

Median Salary: 
$80,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $98,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

GEORGIA

Median Salary: 
$59,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $80,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$44,120$59,710$82,440

HAWAII

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

IDAHO

Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

ILLINOIS

Median Salary: 
$73,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $106,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$52,800$72,970$102,940

INDIANA

Median Salary: 
$74,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $98,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$55,200$76,140$100,530

IOWA

Median Salary: 
$64,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $46,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $109,800

Job Growth Data Not Available

KANSAS

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

KENTUCKY

Median Salary: 
$53,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,400

Job Growth Data Not Available

LOUISIANA

Median Salary: 
$55,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $36,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $110,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$39,680$54,940$77,630

MAINE

Median Salary: 
$57,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $44,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $118,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

MARYLAND

Median Salary: 
$73,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $53,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $109,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$53,850$71,610$99,360
Frederick$68,960$109,380$133,160

MASSACHUSETTS

Median Salary: 
$74,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $53,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $120,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$53,250$73,260$117,740

MICHIGAN

Median Salary: 
$69,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $50,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $85,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

MINNESOTA

Median Salary: 
$73,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $100,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 1%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$48,690$72,430$98,760

MISSISSIPPI

Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: -1%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Jackson$27,180$37,990$56,010

MISSOURI

Median Salary: 
$55,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $44,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $88,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$50,670$70,050$97,770

MONTANA

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

NEBRASKA

Median Salary: 
$59,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $97,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

NEVADA

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

NEW JERSEY

Median Salary: 
$97,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $62,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $134,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: -3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

NEW MEXICO

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

NEW YORK

Median Salary: 
$74,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $123,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$52,010$70,670$127,680

NORTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$98,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $167,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Raleigh$47,960$124,460$171,010

NORTH DAKOTA

Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

OHIO

Median Salary: 
$56,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $81,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 0%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

OKLAHOMA

Median Salary: 
$55,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $80,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$39,750$54,630$74,990

OREGON

Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

PENNSYLVANIA

Median Salary: 
$67,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $49,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $112,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 4%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$50,730$63,900$97,140

RHODE ISLAND

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

SOUTH CAROLINA

Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SOUTH DAKOTA

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

TENNESSEE

Median Salary: 
$71,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $89,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$42,890$70,980$89,740

TEXAS

Median Salary: 
$61,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $94,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$50,290$80,320$123,040
Houston$42,190$66,430$97,380
Austin$46,590$57,420$70,610

UTAH

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

VERMONT

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$66,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $50,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $112,400

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Richmond$45,190$66,250$132,860

WASHINGTON

Median Salary: 
$81,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $141,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$45,480$81,180$166,700

WEST VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$49,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $69,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 2%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

WISCONSIN

Median Salary: 
$62,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $50,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $89,700

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Madison$49,950$61,620$86,450

WYOMING

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that epidemiologists earn a median annual income of $70,820. Many epidemiologists will start with a salary at or around $46,870 (the median salary for the bottom 10% of wage earners), and can ultimately reach over $114,510 with experience. Those who work in the pharmaceutical and scientific research industries are compensated at the higher end of this range.

From 2014 to 2024, job growth for professional epidemiologists is expected to increase at a rate of 6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This rate is approximately the same as the average for all occupations. As expected, those with advanced degrees will have a wider choice of career paths with more research and teaching positions available to them.

Compare Salaries by City

Baltimore MD Median Pay

$71610 Per Year

$34.42 Per Hour

Denver CO Median Pay

$65240 Per Year

$31.36 Per Hour

Steps to Become an Epidemiologist

1

Earn a bachelor's degree.

In order to become an epidemiologist, you must earn at least a master’s degree. The first step is getting your undergraduate degree, though. Make sure you receive a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.

Show Me Schools »

2

Earn your master's degree or doctoral degree (or both).

To work as an epidemiologist, most positions require at least a master’s degree from an accredited institution in the area of public health (e.g. - an M.P.H degree), ideally with an emphasis in epidemiology. Graduate education in public health will include coursework in biostatistics, behavioral studies, health services research and administration, immunology, and toxicology, among other items. Not all graduate schools require you to pass the GRE exam, but most do require it. You will find accredited graduate programs online as well.

Academic or higher level positions in clinical or research epidemiology almost always require a medical degree (M.D.) or other doctorate (PhD).

3

Gain training on the job.

Post-graduate training occurs primarily on the job, and the duration depends upon both the position’s requirements/duties and the epidemiologist’s previous experience.

4

Consider opportunities for advancement.

As a first step towards career advancement as an epidemiologist, many will continue their education to obtain an advanced degree (such as a MD or PhD). This enables epidemiologists to work in larger facilities and to take on positions with greater responsibility and a higher level of pay.

A medical degree in particular will qualify an epidemiologist to administer drugs during clinical research studies and trials - these positions tend to be the highest paying and thus competition for them can be extreme. Specialization, ongoing fieldwork, and years of experience qualify epidemiologists to manage others with lesser qualifications or fewer years of experience.

Exploring Degree Paths

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

All epidemiologist career pathways begin with earning a bachelor’s degree. Most students do this with the intention of continuing on to graduate school. However, some entry-level epidemiology positions accept bachelor’s trained candidates, especially if they have related work experience. (For example, a research position might accept a Bachelor of Public Health with extensive data analysis experience in the social sciences.)

The most common major for aspiring epidemiologists is public health. However, any field related to healthcare or statistical analysis can be good preparation. Other useful majors include nursing, allied health, math, and biological sciences. Because most epidemiologists eventually go on to grad school, it’s important to earn your bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university.

Show Me Schools »

Some useful bachelor’s level courses for aspiring epidemiologists:

Statistics

Explore concepts like inference, variability, and significance as they relate to public health data.

Epidemiology

Learn statistical and data-based techniques to monitor and manage population health.

Ethics

Study potential healthcare dilemmas created by laws, regulations, culture, and individual conduct.

Research methods

Practice designing studies, collecting data, and performing statistical analysis to inform clinical and educational programs.

Bachelor’s-level students may also complete a service learning experience, an internship, or an original research project.

MASTER'S DEGREE

2 years

Most entry-level epidemiologist positions require a Master of Public Health (MPH) or Master of Science (MS) with an epidemiology focus. Having a master’s is particularly important for job candidates who don’t have work experience in a related field like medicine, nursing, or public health.

MPH and MS programs are typically found at 4-year universities. Some are generalist in nature while others offer specialty tracks such as cancer, geriatric, trauma, and genetic epidemiology.

Epidemiology master’s programs typically last about two years. Year one is mainly spent in the classroom while year 2 combines coursework, research, and project work.

Some common epidemiology courses at the master’s level:

Epidemiological methods

Learn to design and conduct epidemiological studies, including data collection techniques, sampling methods, and bias prevention.

Statistical methods

Practice interpreting and analyzing data gathered in epidemiological studies.

Academic and research ethics

Gain an understanding of the epidemiological researcher’s responsibilities to study participants, sponsors, and the public.

Capstone project

Work with a faculty advisor or site preceptor to design and complete a final project. Some programs have a thesis option in which students conduct research and complete a publishable paper.

A few universities offer accelerated master’s programs for healthcare professionals seeking a second degree. Combined bachelor’s-master’s programs are also available.

It’s also common to combine an MPH in epidemiology with a professional degree like medicine or nursing. This is excellent preparation for candidates who aspire to practice epidemiology clinically (for example, as a quality or infection control professional).

DOCTORAL DEGREE

1-3 years

Doctors of Philosophy in epidemiology typically work for universities as professors and researchers. Top agencies like the Centers for Disease Control also prefer to hire doctorate-level epidemiologists for leadership positions.

Most epidemiology PhD programs accept bachelor’s-trained candidates in theory. However, because admissions are highly competitive, applicants with master’s degrees in a related field have a huge advantage. Having a professional degree (in medicine, for example) can also give your application an edge.

The length of the doctoral program depends on the student’s educational history. Students typically take 1-3 years of epidemiology coursework covering subjects like:

SAS programming

Practice writing programs that read, process, and analyze biomedical data.

Advanced epidemiological methods

Study quantitative issues commonly encountered in the planning, execution, and analysis of epidemiological studies.

Epidemiological modeling

Use mathematical methods to predict incidents like infectious disease outbreaks and genetic disease transmission.

Longitudinal analysis

Addresses special problems related to long-term studies, including statistical analysis and dealing with missing data.

The final 2-3 years of the epidemiology doctoral program are dedicated to research and dissertation. Doctoral candidates must contribute an original study to the field of epidemiology. PhD students also participate in scholarly activities like journal clubs and epidemiology conferences.

Keys to Success as an Epidemiologist

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Attention to detail

Fact-finding interviews and processes are a critical part of epidemiology. These require a very detail-oriented mind.

Critical thinking

Epidemiologists must be able to analyze their findings as well as recognize emergent situations as they arise.

Technological savvy

Epidemiologists must be mathematically astute and proficient with statistical analysis and data presentation software programs.

Excellent writing skills

Epidemiologists need to convey their conclusions and recommendations to the medical industry and the general public via both original research articles and opinion pieces.

Additional Credentials

Epidemiologists can advance their careers with continuing education opportunities offered by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

The Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. (CBIC) provides voluntary certification for epidemiologists who work within the infection control industry.

Andrew T. Colucci, MD

Andrew T. Colucci, MD is a senior radiology resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA, and a Clinical Instructor at Harvard Medical School. He is a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society, and a graduate from Boston University School of Medicine and Boston College. His professional interests are quite varied and include clinical research, medical education, healthcare economics, and health policy.

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