What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming an Epidemiologist?

If you want to put your math and critical-thinking skills to work in an occupation that will really make a difference, why not become an epidemiologist? These public health professionals trace the patterns and identify the causes of diseases. Their goal is to influence policies and education to decrease negative outcomes from diseases. The profession has a  median salary substantially higher than that of all occupations. It has a low unemployment rate of just 1.7 percent. It gives you the satisfaction of working to solve public health crises. These are just a few of the benefits that have landed epidemiologist on a few of the U.S. News & World Report’s best jobs lists. To embark on this career path, you will need an advanced degree in either epidemiology or public health.

Option 1: A Master’s in Epidemiology Degree

It makes sense for an aspiring epidemiologist to pursue a degree in epidemiology, but these programs may be hard for students to find.

In a graduate-level epidemiology degree program, students will take courses in biological and physical sciences, public health and statistics, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Be prepared to study advanced topics like:

  • biomedical research
  • multiple regression
  • medical informatics

By the completion of a master’s degree program in epidemiology, you will be able to compare various healthcare systems and apply public health data to understand disease trends and solve problems.

In addition to earning an epidemiology degree, some students also attend medical school so they can get the knowledge and credentials to work with patients in a clinical capacity.

Option 2: A Master of Public Health Degree

Earning a Master’s in Public Health degree with an emphasis in epidemiology is actually a more common path to this career than earning an actual epidemiology degree, the BLS reports. Students in these programs complete coursework similar to those in epidemiology programs, including:

  • research methods
  • statistics
  • epidemiology
  • public health

Other candidates enter the field of epidemiology from other educational backgrounds. Some earn a Ph.D. so they can hold leadership roles in research projects. Others focus narrowly on a particular specialty.

Epidemiologists earn a median annual salary of $65,270, according to the BLS. However, which industry you work in will play a large role in your earning potential. Epidemiologists who work in research and development in the physical, engineering and life sciences earn a median annual salary of $92,070. The BLS anticipates job growth for epidemiologist opportunities to be “about as fast as average.” Candidates who are willing to consider work in a variety of specialties are more likely to find their desired position than those who are attached to one particular specialty.

Between the high salary potential, steady job growth and importance of the work, is it any wonder that U.S. News & World Report ranked the profession 36th among the 100 Best Jobs? It’s also  17th among the Best Health Care Jobs and 14th among the Best Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Jobs.

Brenda Rufener
Author

Julie McCaulley
Expert

Carrie Sealey-Morris
Editor-in-Chief