How to Become an Epidemiologist


Epidemiologists study patterns of disease in populations and reach conclusions based on the data that they collect. These help to develop research for medicines and create advice that is given to patients, as well as advising governments on the spread and control of diseases.

Epidemiologists study diseases in the general population by looking at statistics about lifestyle trends rather than medical research. They analyse the links between certain exposures that can cause illness and their outcomes. Epidemiologists consider variables in populations that could affect whether someone gets ill, and present these findings to their employers. Their advice should help to lower the number of people developing illnesses, lessen the length and severity outbreaks of contagious diseases and prevent future epidemics.

The need for accuracy within an epidemiologist’s role is paramount; as they look at how certain lifestyle factors influence some illnesses, they must be really clear about why the link is causative rather than correlative, and consider variables and cofounders, which influence both the cause and effect.

There are three main types of epidemiologists. Public health epidemiologists look at individual outbreaks or illnesses and consider lifestyle factors when using an investigative approach to reach a conclusion. Dr John Snow, the first known public health epidemiologist, used neighbourhood maps and the habits of the population to reach conclusions about a cholera outbreak in London in 1854, tracing it back to one water tap.

Population epidemiologists work with entire populations of cities and countries and consider different risk factors for a variety of illnesses, whereas clinical or physician epidemiologists study individual patients. Candidates will generally need some sort of medical training or education for this role.

The duties of epidemiologists vary depending on their specialism, but generally include:

  • Studying people and populations’ habits and lifestyles to see what exposures link to the outcome of illness.
  • Using statistics and probabilities to calculate the likelihood of exposure to certain things causing illnesses.
  • Analysing data about current outbreaks in the population and assessing the reasons behind this using previous research.
  • Advising public health bodies about new findings.
  • Staying updated on epidemiological news, connecting with other epidemiologists to discuss new discoveries.

Epidemiologist education requirements are a biological science or medical based degree, and a masters degree in epidemiology. Candidates should demonstrate an eager understanding of public health throughout their studies and experience; possible work experience options are with NGOs and charities, or laboratory research.

Careers in epidemiology require excellent analytical skills, as this is a huge part of an epidemiologist’s job. They should also be strong communicators as they will need to report their findings to a range of people, and have solid computer skills because they will need to access statistical programmes.

Epidemiologists generally work in the public health sector, but they can also work in private fields. Working privately, or obtaining more specialisms, brings higher wages. Some epidemiologists work in universities for research roles.

Working hours are normally traditional 9-5, but sometimes epidemiologists will need to work in the evenings or at the weekends – especially if there is a public health crisis. Most epidemiologists work in office based roles, but clinical epidemiologists may find that their working patterns are more irregular.


What degree is most commonly held by an Epidemiologist?

  • Masters Degree in Epidemiology
  • Master of Public Health (M.P.H.)
  • MSc
  • Master of Applied Epidemiology
  • Bachelor of Health Science
  • BSc Bachelor of Medicine with Global Health
  • Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS)

Career Transportability across Countries

Transportability: High
  Epidemiology is a global career, and as outbreaks often occur across borders, there is a good chance of being able to work overseas. Temporary field work in epidemic locations is common in this career; however, this often involves being right at the centre of an outbreak and can be dangerous. Highly-skilled epidemiologists with experience may find it possible to acquire permanent work in other countries.

What is the Salary of an Epidemiologist?

Experience Average salary | year
Epidemiologist $97,000 £56,700 $66,022

What skills are needed to become an Epidemiologist?

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health
  • Research
  • Data Analysis
  • Statistics
  • Biostatistics
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Clinical Research
  • Clinical Research
  • Microsoft Office
  • Global Health
  • Healthcare
  • Public Speaking
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Stata
  • Program Evaluation
  • SAS
  • SPSS
  • Literature Reviews
  • Qualitative Research
  • Leadership
  • Science
  • Project Management
  • Teaching
  • Microsoft Word

Epidemiology Courses

People wondering how to become an epidemiologist should take part in some supplementary education, such as courses about the causes of diseases or health administration. We have these and more available at FutureLearn.
  • Managing COVID-19 in Primary Care

    Get practical advice and support around how to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic as a front-line healthcare professional

  • Causes of Human Disease: Understanding Causes of Disease

    Learn the epidemiological methods used to understand the causes of diseases and how social factors influence their development

  • Bacterial Genomes: Antimicrobial Resistance in Bacterial Pathogens

    What's antimicrobial resistance and how can we detect it Explore the clinical relevance of AMR and the methods used to detect it

Need even more evidence about why you should learn on FutureLearn?

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