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What is it like to be an epidemiologist?

Hi I'm Joan and I'm in 9th grade. I wanted to learn something about epidemiology. I heard about it in school and I wonder what it's really like to be an epidemiologist. We discussed in class how epidemiologists study the spread of disease. What is a typical day for an epidemiologist? Or if there is no typical day, then what are some of the normal things you have to do as an epidemiologist?


It would be really helpful for me if you could share your experience. I really appreciate the advice! Thank you!

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Alison’s Answer

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Hello, I am not a computer generated answer or currently working as an epidemiologist, but I do have some knowledge of the subject as a former case manager and teacher of microbiology. A normal day for an epidemiologist truly depends on the field you study and if you are a local, state, or federal employee. There are some private firms you could work for but for the most part this specialization in science would be for the government. The positions available would require you to pass background, criminal, and security clearance so that is something to think about especially as you get older. As a epidemiologist you could work in disease surveillance for any variety of living organisms because if it lives it can become diseased and for the most part we do track it. On a local scale you would be reporting up to the state level and federal level. You would collect data from your population of interest, complete research on strains of microbes, look for factors of predisposition within the sample population, work with emergency responders and FEMA on controlling outbreaks of disease, and prepare detailed scientific research for publication and/or presentation. What you would do for any given day would be determined on the basis of what skill you need to utilize most at the given time. You would need to have the following attributes: able to communicate quickly and competently orally and in writing, have a high degree of scientific inquiry knowledge base, possess advanced mathematical prowess especially in statistics, understand life sciences relavent to the population you wish to serve, and be able to apply biochemical theory to name a few. Usually you will commit to having an advanced degree in medical, veterinary, or botany science related to your desired specialty. Please let me know if you have further questions and I will answer with the best of my ability. One way to get more information in a setting that may be able to assist you further would be to go down to your local health department and ask to speak to the person in charge of infectious disease surveillance.

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Michelle’s Answer

Allison's answer states the many roles and tasks of an epidemiologist very well. Hopefully you will find my answer helpful as well.I have done some masters courses in clinical epidemiology and did some work with clinical research epidemiologists prior to medical school.


An example I will give you is one task that I helped out with was find the rates of diabetes among children in a local area over the past 20 years. This involved a team of people in the epidemiology department which included epidemiology masters students, epidemiologist, research nurse, and two physicians. There is definitely lots of team work in epidemiology.




  1. Researching journals, books, etc to find out the rates of diabetes among children in other parts of the country and other parts of the world with children who are of similar age and ethnicity and summarizing this information in writing through a process called a literature review. This information can be used when publishing the results of the research in a journal or presented in a poster at a research conference.




  2. Looking through a hospital computer database and finding the medical records of these children who developed diabetes




  3. Finding information such as age when child was diagnosed by a doctor with diabetes, gender, year of birth, etc and entering into a computer database.




4.Using computer statistics software like SPSS (very easy to learn how to use) to calculate rate of diabetes for each year and can classify by gender, specific age groups, etc and make graphs and table to show the rates of diabetes have increased, decreased, or stayed the same over the past 20 years. This information can be published in a journal article or presented in a poster/ PowerPoint at a research conference .



  1. Interpret this information and write a summary describing the results from the statistical analysis.. I.e there is a rise in diabetes in past 5 years and implications for current health care system I.e. More diabetes clinics will be needed to help kids, etc. again communicate in a journal article or poster, etc.


Epidemiologists work in various ways in the public health field. I suggest contacting the local public health department and ask about ways to volunteer in public health and shadow epidemiologists or other health professionals (public health inspectors, public health nurses, medical officers, environmental inspectors) in areas where epidemiology is used like disease surveillance, outbreak control, etc.

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Ramya’s Answer

Most positions as an epidemiologist require at least a master’s degree from an accredited institution in the area of public health, ideally with an emphasis in epidemiology. This course of study will include coursework in biostatistics, behavioral studies, health services research and administration, immunology, toxicology and more. Most epidemiologists have a master's degree, but those who conduct research for universities or have senior-level jobs often need a Ph.D. Some epidemiologists have professional medical backgrounds. The following table contains essential requirements for epidemiologists:

Thank you comment icon Hi Ramya. Same comment for you as the one above for Celin. John is looking for insights about the day-to-day activities. Your answer focuses mostly on the requirements for getting the job, which isn't what John is looking for. If you could share some information about what an epidemiologist spends his/her time on, I'm sure John would appreciate it. Thanks! Jared Chung, Admin BACKER
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Celin’s Answer

More than half of epidemiologists work for government agencies at the local, state and federal levels. These professionals also work for private research facilities, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and universities. Epidemiologists usually 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. In most cases, the work is considered low risk, although some epidemiologists may work directly with dangerous chemicals or pathogens.

Thank you comment icon Hi Celin. Could you please expand on your answer to John's question. John said that he is looking for an example of a " typical day" and "some of the normal things you have to do as an epidemiologist". If you have experience as an epidemiologist, it would be great if you shared your insights from your first-hand experience. Jared Chung, Admin BACKER
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