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Around the world today there is a strong focus on preventative medicine. That is, the idea is to prevent people from getting sick in the first place. This type of thinking can lead to better health outcomes in the long term and lower health care costs.
Advancing the cause of preventative medicine and improving public health is why many professionals today are earning their master’s degree in epidemiology. A degree in epidemiology is designed to prepare you to focu on the medical, ethical, social and public policy issues that affect a community’s healthcare.
Epidemiologists play a vital role in public health. They investigate patterns and causes of illness, disease and injury in humans. They also seek to cut the risk and occurrence of various negative health outcomes through effective research, health policy and community education.
Students who graduate with a master’s in epidemiology work with communities and government organizations to improve the response to various public health problems.
Earning a master’s in epidemiology will open an exciting world of public health related work opportunities, including these roles:
- Epidemiologist: These public health professionals study public health problems and find ways to prevent or treat them as they occur, or before they occur. A key part of this job is to collect and analyze data via observations, interviews and surveys. They may collect blood and other types of samples to determine the causes of various diseases and illnesses. These public health workers will usually work either in research or in applied public health. The latter involves working for state and governments.
- Environmental Scientist: These public health professionals use their extensive knowledge of the natural sciences to protect human health and the environment. They often work on cleaning up polluted areas, advising policy makers and legislators, and working with manufacturers to reduce waste. These workers often are employed by state and federal government agencies to ensure that environmental regulations are followed.
- Health Educator or Community Health Worker: Health educators inform the public about types of behaviors that increase wellness and good health. They devise plans and strategies in communities to improve health and well being. On a related note, community health workers serve as an important link between health educators, the community and other health care and social service workers. Both types of workers collect data and talk about health concerns with members of certain populations or communities.
Why Earn a Master’s in Epidemiology?
The study and practice of epidemiology has a broad impact on the health of the world today. Epidemiology and the research produced by epidemiologists has many valuable uses:
Community Health Assessment
To come up with effective public health policies, officials have to be able to properly assess the health of a community. They also have to determine if health services are effective, efficient and accessible. To do so, they have to answer many questions about the community regarding health problems there. Epidemiology helps to provide these officials with information to devise effective public policy to promote good health.
Broad Societal Impact
Most of us do not realize it, but people use the research and conclusions of epidemiological studies in their daily life. Since World War II, epidemiologists have conducted studies that have had a broad, positive impact upon public health.
For example, in the 1950s, it was the work of epidemiologists that determined that smokers have a greatly increased risk of lung cancer. Epidemiologists also have played vital roles in determining the importance of good diet and exercise to prevent heart disease.
Much of the work of epidemiologists is dedicated to finding causes and what factors will increase the risk of disease. The goal is to find a cause so that public health actions can be taken that save lives and improve health.
For example, the removal of a type of tampon in the 1970s was due to the work of epidemiologists who determined that toxic shock syndrome was causing serious health problems.
You should expect these types of requirements to be considered for admission into a master’s in epidemiology program:
- 3.0 or higher GPA
- Bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry or a related field
- Courses in biology, microbiology, genetics, anatomy and physiology
- Statement of purpose
- Public health volunteer experience
- GRE scores may be required
Curriculum and Courses
George Washington University offers a strong epidemiology master’s program that will help you to make a difference in solving public health problems. Graduates from this two or three year program will be able to apply critical and analytical thinking to have a better understanding of human health and disease.
All epidemiology graduates from GWU will be able to:
- Understand and adhere to the highest standards of scientific research
- Understand and adhere to ethics guidelines for treating research subjects
- Communicate the latest research conclusions effectively to a lay audience
- Show respect for cultural diversity throughout the entire program
Students at GWU can focus on one area of epidemiology if they like, but it is not required. Some of the focus areas you can choose include:
- Chronic diseases
- Methods and analysis
- Environmental epidemiology
- Infectious disease epidemiology
Core courses include:
- Biological Concepts for Public Health
- Biostatistical Applications for Public Health
- Principles and Practice of Epidemiology
- Management and Policy Approaches to Public Health
- Clinical Epidemiology
- Infectious Disease Epidemiology
Career Outcomes and Job Titles
With your master’s degree, you could have these types of job titles and career outcomes:
- Lead epidemiologist
- Applied epidemiologist
- Epidemiology investigator
- Disaster epidemiologist
- Environmental scientist
- Health education manager
- Community health worker
Job and Salary Outlook
- Epidemiologist — This profession will grow by 6% by 2024, which is about average. It is believed that there will be continued improvements in how medical records are kept, and this will improve the ability of epidemiologists to track the health results and demographic information of patients. This should lead to higher demand for these workers. State and local governments also will likely have a strong demand for epidemiologists in the near future. The median salary is $69,000 as of May 2015.
- Environmental Scientist — This profession will see strong growth in the range of 11% by 2024. There is more interest today in the dangers that are facing our environment, and also more demand being placed on the environment due to the growth of population. Much of the employment growth will likely be in private consulting organizations that help their clients to monitor and manage environmental problems. The median salary is $67,400.
- Health Educator — Demand for health educators will increase by 13% by 2024, which is faster than average for all occupations. Growth is being driven by the desire for healthcare organizations and governments to improve health outcomes and reduce costs. The median salary is $51,900.
Scholarships and Grants
- Young Epidemiology Scholars: This organization offers a variety of scholarships for students who will be studying epidemiology at the master’s or doctoral level.
- World Health Organization: WHO offers many grants and scholarships for students of epidemiology.
- American Public Health Association: This is the largest and most significant public health association in the US, and is a good resource for aspiring epidemiologists.
- Council on Education for Public Health: This is the premier accreditation body for public health college programs in the US.
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