Epidemiologists: The Public’s Health Detectives

Disease. Until rather recently, an untraceable, invisible curse that spread through populations of people leaving illness, death, and fear in the wake. With recently acquired knowledge of how diseases arise, spread, and affect individuals comes the ability to trace the incidence of these afflictions to find patterns and, potentially, reduce the occurrence.

Epidemiology is a branch of public health that deals with studying the occurrence and distribution of health factors. Whether it be infectious disease, injury, or health issues such as obesity, epidemiological studies focus on studying where these factors are present, how prevalent they are, and potentially how to control them.

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The Science of Epidemiology 

Depending on the topic of a study, many fields of science are required to track health factors. For example, infectious disease epidemiology requires knowledge and extensive background on the mechanisms of disease and how they propagate through human populations.

Likewise, a study involving the high occurrence of asthma in a population will require understanding of the molecular mechanisms of the ailment to determine what factors could be causing it. Regardless of the topic of interest, though, epidemiology studies rely on facts organized and interpreted by statistical analyses.

Professionals in the Field

The health field is one of the largest industries in the world, with uncountable moving parts that must coordinate in the best interest of human health. Epidemiologists, though, have the unique role of a detective in health matters at the population level.

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A field epidemiologist teaching preventative techniques in West Africa.

Professionals in public health epidemiology are servants of the public and, therefore, will find public interests to be paramount. These men and women must have a passion for the work that they do and an understanding of the importance of their role in society.

For instance, the Ebola outbreak, one of the most well known disease epidemics in recent history, required epidemiologists from across the world to leave their homes and enter a dangerous environment. They were sent there to assist helpless West African people and build a strong public health infrastructure that wasn’t already in place to get to the bottom of the disease outbreak.

Careers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an epidemiologist makes a salary of $70,820  on average. After completing a master’s degree in public health, one could expect to work in a government organization, such as the Center for Disease control and Prevention or a state health department. There are also opportunities for epidemiologists to work in universities doing research and teaching public health courses.

There are multiple paths to take within the field of epidemiology depending on the health factors an individual is interested in researching. According to the University of Pittsburg School of Public Health some of these specializations include:

  • Infectious Disease Epidemiology
  • Obesity and Nutrition Epidemiology
  • Environmental Epidemiology
  • Injury Prevention Epidemiology

The Importance of Epidemiology 

As everyone knows, being sick, injured, or under the tough conditions of chronic disease is a helpless and terrifying feeling. Society needs professionals willing to address these issues to find the underlying cause and correlations within health factors. Using science and statistics to answer questions about the occurrence of certain conditions is necessary and helpful to the public.

If you found this information useful, please share with friends or family that may have similar interests. If you have any questions or comments related to public health epidemiology, feel free to leave a comment below.

 

4 Comments

  1. Hi, Matt–I have a question about careers in epidemiology. Besides jobs at government and educational institutions, are there any industry jobs for epidemiologists (for example, consulting drug or health product companies)?

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    1. Thanks for the question! There are careers in the private industry in hospitals and surgical centers. There are also private organizations that allow for more well-funded research for epidemiologists and their projects. Although, it’s more common for a public health worker to be working within the government for health agencies at the federal, state, or local level.

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  2. This is very interesting information. I feel that unless you work in public health, it is something that many of us don’t think about until we need it. What specific diseases are you most intrigued by when it comes to public health?

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    1. Hey Karin, I haven’t necessarily narrowed it down to specific diseases but vector-borne diseases such as West Nile, Zika, Malaria, and Lyme Disease are really interesting to me.

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