In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
Medical epidemiologists are public health physicians who bring a strong knowledge of clinical medicine to their epidemiology work. (See the description of epidemiologist to learn more.) Their medical training gives them special understanding of the clinical manifestations of diseases, the underlying pathophysiology, the ways medications work, and the nuances that can make the study of certain diseases especially complex. Medical epidemiologists can do surveillance and monitoring, outbreak investigation, and research, not just in chronic disease (such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer), but in all areas of public health. Some use their skills to help design and evaluate disease prevention programs. Often, medical epidemiologists serve as consultants to non-physician epidemiologists and other public health experts. They also have the knowledge to talk peer-to-peer with other physicians about medical information. Some medical epidemiologists are specialists, focusing on one area of health, others are generalists.
Education and Certification
In most cases, a medical epidemiologist must have an MD or DO degree. Many jobs also require completion of a residency program and a license to practice, and some require a specific medical specialty. It is possible to do epidemiological work without specialized training, but employers usually prefer or require an MPH degree, completion of the EIS program, or other relevant education.
Core Competencies and Skills
- Curiosity about patterns of disease
- Logical and analytical thinking
- Ability to explain medical knowledge to non-physicians
- Strong knowledge of epidemiological principles
- Knowledge of how to use statistics programs and databases
- Good background in clinical medicine, an interest in learning more, and the ability to search and understand the medical literature
Salaries vary by level, experience, and location. In the federal government, physicians doing public health work can earn from around $72,000 to $150,000 or more; salaries increase with experience and responsibility. Overall, salaries in the range of $95,000 to $150,000 are common.
Medical epidemiologists work for local and state health departments and for federal agencies including the CDC, the NIH, and the Department of Defense. Some are university faculty. There are also opportunities at nonprofit organizations and in consulting firms.
There is expanding interest in epidemiological approaches to chronic disease, maternal and child health, substance abuse, disaster preparedness, and other topics beyond the more traditional focus on infectious disease. This may lead to new opportunities for medical epidemiologists. In general, the number of jobs for epidemiologists is expected to increase over the next few years.