What is an Epidemiologist and How Much Do They Make?

The field of epidemiology is becoming increasingly popular. Epidemiologists are a type of research scientist and their role is to look how disease spreads and why they spread in certain areas. They focus heavily on data collection, which covers cultural areas in particular. Through their analysis of this data, they then try to help people to stop the spread of diseases, or impede it as much as possible.

What Is an Epidemiologist?

Typically, an epidemiologist is someone who can see connections between things that appear unrelated on the surface. They look at issues such as sexual behavior, socialization, hygiene habits, living arrangements, genetics, and diets, and they try to determine if these are related to spread of specific illnesses across population groups. To collect this data, they perform experiments and observe existing groups. Their findings are reported to public health officials, the general public, academia, and the media.

Because their job touches on so many levels of society, they are also found in a variety of different locations. However, the top employer for epidemiologists is the field of public health. Looking after people who have a variety of illnesses is a significant drain on resources of communities. Hence, an epidemiologist will often work in the healthcare sector in an effort to come up with preventative measures, such as changes to behaviors and diets. They also look into elements that may be controversial, which includes vaccinations.

Usually, an epidemiologist will hold a doctorate degree. Their undergraduate degree will usually be in relation to medicine or biology, and most also hold a master’s in public health. Through their extensive knowledge, they investigate how and where diseases start, how they are transmitted, and how they should be both prevented and treated. Millions of lives and millions of dollars have been saved thanks to the work of epidemiologists.

The role of the epidemiologist is ranked #3 in Best Science Jobs by the U.S. News & World Report. They:

  • Perform research in order to develop procedures, instrumentation, and methodologies for medical application. They interpret and analyze data, and present their findings.
  • Are responsible for the development, planning, administration, and evaluation of health and safety programs and standards relating to public health improvement. They work together with physicians, industry personnel, and health departments in order to do this.
  • Direct, plan, and managed studies in order to come up with disease prevention and treatment methods.

How Much Do Epidemiologists Make?

To become an epidemiologist, you must hold a master’s degree as a minimum, but a doctorate degree is preferred. This means that you have to make a significant investment of both time and money in order to enter this field of work. Generally speaking, epidemiologists are interested in improving the lives of others, which means their salary is of secondary nature. However, they, like anyone else, do appreciate seeing a return on investment in terms of their degrees. So how much can an epidemiologist expect to earn? Unfortunately, there is no direct answer for this. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts the average earnings of epidemiologists at $69,450 per year at master’s degree level. The bottom 10% earn less than $46,130 per year, and the top 10% earn more than $114,550. However, there are many factors that influence exactly how much an epidemiologist is likely to earn. These include:

1. The Industry in Which They Work

The BLS reports that:

  • Epidemiologists in the field of research and development in physical, engineering, and life sciences earn $91,900 per year on average. 10% of all epidemiologists work here.
  • Epidemiologists in the field of private general medical and surgical hospitals earn $77,460 per year on average. 12% of all epidemiologists work here.
  • Epidemiologists in the field of private, local, and state colleges, universities, and professional schools earn $68,180 per year on average. 10% of all epidemiologists work here.
  • Epidemiologists in the field of state government, excluding hospitals and education, earn $64,350 on average. 31% of all epidemiologists work here.
  • Epidemiologists in the field of local government, excluding hospitals and education, earn $62,980 on average. 22% of all epidemiologists work here.

2. The Geographical Location

A second important factor that influences salary is the geographical location of the epidemiologist. According to the BLS, the five best paying states are:

  • District of Columbia, where epidemiologists earn an average of $104,950 per year.
  • New Jersey, where epidemiologists earn an average of $104,100 per year.
  • California, where epidemiologists earn an average of $101,990 per year.
  • North Carolina, where epidemiologists earn an average of $100,950 per year.
  • Connecticut, where epidemiologists earn an average of $90,140 per year.

The worst state is Kentucky, with an average annual salary of $52,650.

3. The Employer

Who employs the epidemiologist is also a factor of influence on salary. According to Payscale.com:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pays between $69,000 and $122,000 per year.
  • The Department of Public Health pays between $40,000 and $57,000 per year.

4. Experience

The years of experience an epidemiologist has is also of tremendous importance. Interestingly, salaries rise most quickly when the epidemiologist is entering the workforce. According to Payscale.com, an epidemiologist with:

  • Zero to five years’ experience earns $56,000 per year on average.
  • Five to ten years’ experience earns $75,000 per year on average.
  • Ten to 20 years’ experience earns $90,000 per year on average.

The average salary does not rise any further for those who have more than 20 years’ experience.

As you can see, an epidemiologist stands to earn a very interesting salary. As such, you are very likely to see a good return on investment on the financial and time resources you have to put in to obtaining the degree in the first place. However, as previously said, most epidemiologists do not enter the profession for the money, but rather for the fact that they can make such an important difference in the lives of millions. With the recent Ebola crisis, which also reached U.S. soil, and the continuing obesity epidemic that is now also affecting children, demand for epidemiologists continues to be high. In fact, the BLS predicts a growth of 6% in demand for the skills of epidemiologists from 2014 to 2024, which means you are pretty much guaranteed to find a job after graduation.


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Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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