An epidemiologist is a scientist who studies how diseases interact with populations. Most epidemiologists study the relationships between germs and people, but some investigate animal or plant diseases. These scientists study the factors involved in every aspect of a disease, including the start, spread, and treatment.
Three primary types of studies/reports are performed by epidemiologists: descriptive, analytical, and experimental. In descriptive studies epidemiologists determine the physical aspects of existing diseases. For example, they might record the number of cases of chicken pox in a given locale. Analytical studies report on the cause/effect relationships in a disease, such as the reasons behind increased numbers of cholera cases in a flood ravaged area or a decrease in influenza cases due to a mild winter. In experimental studies, epidemiologists test hypotheses about treatment of diseases such as the efficacy (success rate) of a hepatitis vaccine or testing experimental cures for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections on animal models.
Epidemiologists work in a variety of settings, including the field (from urban health clinics to villages in Africa), the laboratory (testing vaccines), or the office (organizing and interpreting data).
In addition, epidemiologists work for a wide range of employers. Governmental services ranging from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to local city and county health departments employ many epidemiologists. International health centers such as the World Health Organization (WHO) track worldwide pandemics to localized epidemics across the globe. Hospitals often employ epidemiologists to assist them in disease control within the hospital. Epidemiologists also work in the private sector, often for pharmaceutical companies tracking the success rate of newly introduced drugs.
The degrees held by people working in epidemiology vary from associate degrees in health sciences to doctoral degrees specializing in epidemiology. Important secondary classes that could be taken to prepare for epidemiology training include microbiology, biology (advanced and general), medical terminology, biochemistry, and statistics.
Mark S. Davis
Black, Jacquelyn G. Microbiology Principles and Explorations, 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.