Earning an epidemiology degree may develop students' understanding of the causes, spread, prevention and treatment of diseases in a population. Epidemiology programs cover subjects such as infection control, population biology, community outreach, health resource allocation, and health policy to prepare students to fight these and other diseases. Epidemiologists may also study and address chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
written by Rana Waxman
|Cancer Epidemiology||University at Buffalo||PhD|
|Ph.D. in Public Health - Epidemiology||Walden University||N/A|
Some graduate epidemiology programs emphasize research, while others focus on practical applications and prepare students to pursue a career in allied public health.i Depending on the area of focus, students could complete their own research or participate in practicums, in addition to coursework. Consider your goals and read course descriptions carefully to find a epidemiology degree that's perfect for you.
Most epidemiology programs are available at either the Masters or PhD levels, since a career in this field requires education beyond the bachelors. At these levels, students might explore the relationship of disease to human populations, and, methods for how to study those linkages. Through theory and application-based scientific research, students may develop a grasp of disease risk factors and how to implement control and preventative measures.
At minimum, applicants are required to have a bachelors degree. Also, some epidemiology schools might require future students to have college-level credits in human biology. Examples of possible courses could include general/introductory human biology, microbiology, cell biology, genetics, physiology, and anatomy.
Beyond this, some schools look at GRE test scores, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose. In it, students may have to specify any area(s) of interest. Since some epidemiology schools engage in their own research, they may give preference to applicants who have identified a possible research mentor. Or, to individuals whose own research interests mirror those of the school’s faculty.
Coursework in an epidemiology degree program might include topics in public health, biological and physical sciences, math and health statistics. Often, the focus is on quantitative methods such as data analysis, and survey design.i These advanced courses might prepare students to create and conduct clinical trials and epidemiologic studies. While course names may vary, students might explore subjects such as the ones listed below.
In most epidemiology graduate programs, students take courses in both epidemiology and biostatistics. When offered as ‘epidemiology and biostatistics’, students may expect a course of study that is inter-disciplinary. This type of programs may provide a research-oriented point of view.
Along with the theories and tools of core public health issues, students may develop a statistical background. This blend may help them to conduct research, develop hypotheses, analyze data, interpret and communicate results.
The two primary Masters in Epidemiology degrees are the Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Science (MS). Other masters in epidemiology programs might have variations of these titles, for instance, a Master of Science in Public Health.
The Master of Science (MS) in Epidemiology program is a clinical research-based program of study within the broader field of epidemiology. An MS curriculum often focuses on scientific and mathematical theories. In some cases, it is a 45-credit program that might take about two years of full-time study. Generally the MS entails a few key parts.
Epidemiologic Methods: Some of these courses may help students develop skills and knowledge essential to patient-oriented clinical research. For instance, students might learn all about epidemiologic methods, and how to design and conduct clinical trials.
Biostatistics: Other courses are likely to introduce statistical analysis, biostatistics and probability as well as the ethics of research.
Areas of emphasis: Some masters in epidemiology programs might allow students to select an area of focus. Global Health and infectious diseases are two examples.
Student Research: MS courses are designed to help students develop a well-versed grasp of the field and to prepare for their masters thesis.
The Master of Public Health (MPH) degree is a practice-based research program. While the MS takes a qualitative point of view, the MPH tends to focus on public health concepts and theories. In some schools, the MPH entails about 42 credits of coursework that may have a few parts to it. Through it, students may develop a grasp of how to integrate science and practice.
Those who earn their MPH in Epidemiology degree are likely to develop a basic knowledge of epidemiology that can be applied to public health issues. Aside from methods of epidemiological research, students might take courses on disease outcomes and disease causation, such as genetics, nutrition, and the environment.
MPH Epidemiology Core: Students usually take a series of core courses. They might start off with a foundation of public health course to examine public health history, ethics, and health and human rights. This could serve as a platform for a broader comprehension of patterns of health disparities and domestic and international policy. Also, they might take courses in scientific inquiry to learn about biostatistics and research methods.
Other courses might address the function of U.S. health systems, determinants of health and disease etiology. Finally, they might take courses in global health and its challenges.
Practicum: The practicum—essentially an internship in the field—is often required in an MPH program. In it, students may work alongside public health professionals and possibly apply what they’ve learned in class. A final paper might also be expected.
Concentrations: In some epidemiology schools, students may choose a departmental focus. Some examples are epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health sciences, health policy and management, population and health, and socio-medical sciences.
At the doctorate level, two of the main Epidemiology degrees are the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Some programs build on either the MPH or MS degrees. Other programs may allow a masters degree in an unrelated field.
In this case, the student may need to show that she or he has taken sufficient science and math courses and is proficient in these areas. Applicants to a doctorate epidemiology program may need to furnish GRE test scores and other material outlined by the school’s admission’s office.
The PhD in Epidemiology is a research degree that may equip students with the tools of modern epidemiology, as well as introduce them to key theories and models of leadership. Epidemiology PhD programs vary but a full-time student might expect to earn their degree in about four years.
Coursework: PhD epidemiology programs often require students to take a series of core courses and electives. Some courses might highlight biostatistics, computer science, genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics.
Also, students are likely to explore advanced research methods and ethics for clinical trials. Yet other courses might analyze health care and data-driven medicine.
In addition, some epidemiology PhD programs might provide workshops and/or seminars to help students prepare their own research for their final dissertation.
Research: Due to the overall nature of a PhD program, students are usually able to choose an area in which to anchor their research and dissertation. In fact, special topics, such as tropical diseases, maternal health or infectious diseases, may be presented within a seminar.
Along with gaining exposure to current research, students might pursue one of these areas to promote new insight in the field.
Other PhD Options: As an alternative, students might pursue their PhD in Population Biology, Ecology and Evolution. In this type of program, students are likely to conduct research in other areas of inquiry. Bioinformatics and biostatistics; the biology of species interactions; disease ecology; ecological and evolutionary modeling; genetics of complex traits; and population and comparative genomics are some examples.
The Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) is an advanced professional degree. It is often designed for those who already have their MPH degree and wish to pursue or further their career in public health practice.
These programs often prepares practitioners with the ability to problem solve in areas such as administration, advocacy, research, and communication. Students who choose this academic route might choose to focus their degree on epidemiology.
Coursework: Epidemiology DrPH students typically take a series of core courses. These are likely to address advanced biostatistics, systems approaches and public health leadership. Also, students usually explore the social and behavioral determinants of health and disease.
For the focus on epidemiology, students evaluate current research and may study advanced mathematics and data analysis.
Electives: In some DrPH programs, students may be able to choose an elective in consultation with their academic advisor. Some examples are cardiovascular epidemiology, cancer epidemiology, reproductive and perinatal epidemiology.
A graduate certificate in Epidemiology is usually about 5 to 6 courses selected to provide career competency in the field. Courses in the Graduate Certificate might be applied towards the MPH degree, should the student choose to continue his/her education. Schools vary, so contact them directly to see if this might be an option for you.
Coursework: As a shorter program, the Epidemiology Graduate Certificate may provide learners with a basic grasp of the concepts of epidemiology used in public health practice. For instance, students may have to take core courses in biostatistics and examine the use and analysis of health statistics. Other courses might examine the epidemiology of chronic disease and infectious disease.
Epidemiologists can be thought of as “disease detectives”. They often collect and analyze data to check for patterns that could help stop future outbreaks, reduce risks and educate the public. And, their discoveries reach far and wide. They may analyze bacteria in swimming pools, urge the public to get a flu shot or pursue government funding for public health emergencies.
To pursue a career as an epidemiologist, most positions require at least a masters degree from an accredited institution in the area of public health (e.g. MPH degree), ideally with a focus in epidemiology. Academic or higher level positions in clinical or research epidemiology almost always require a medical degree (MD) or other doctorate (PhD).i
DID YOU KNOW? Epidemiologists are also called ‘Epidemiology Investigators’.ii
Epidemiologists are employed in government, medical hospitals, research facilities and universities. Overall, the rate at which employment is projected to grow is 6 percent from 2014 to 2024. In May 2016, the median annual wage for epidemiologists was $70,820.
Per the BLS, it is not uncommon for an Epidemiologist to choose a career niche. Infectious disease, emergency response, chronic disease, and environmental health are a few examples.i
Students might choose to earn their Epidemiology degree through a regionally accredited university. Accreditation is a voluntary process for schools. Institutional accreditation may be a good tool to determine the quality of its student services, faculty, financial stability and curricula.
Another tier of approval is professional accreditation. Some individual schools of public health and public health programs may be approved by the CEPH. The Council on Education for Public Health is the nationally recognized accreditor for this purpose.
Aside from degree level, do you have a preferred method for how you want to work towards your epidemiology degree? Campus programs offer face-to-face interaction with peers and faculty. Libraries and laboratories may be on-site and you may be able to join a community of others. On the other hand, online epidemiology programs might provide a flexible way to schedule study around a busy work life.
Whether you prefer research, outreach, advocacy or public health policy, the first step is to choose a graduate degree in epidemiology that aligns with your interests.
To get started, you can filter results by degree level, location and program format. A list of programs will be generated that you can then easily compare. Best of all, just use the on-page form to contact the epidemiology schools on your list.
Sources: [i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/epidemiologists.htm | [ii] onetonline.org/link/summary/19-1041.00