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, with the goal of influencing policies and education to decrease negative outcomes from diseases. A median salary substantially higher than that of all occupations, a low unemployment rate of just 1.7 percent and the satisfaction of working to solve public health crises 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 logical 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, students 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 attain 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 reported. Students in these programs complete coursework similar to those in epidemiology programs, including research methods, statistics, epidemiology and, of course, 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, while 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, 17th among the Best Health Care Jobs and 14th among the Best Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Jobs?

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris