What Is An Epidemiologist?
Every year, millions of people become sick with all kinds of diseases. Sometimes the diseases are isolated, affecting only a few people at a time. When one person breaks a leg or has appendicitis, for example, the illness will not spread to other people in the area. An orthopedic surgeon can take care of the leg, and general surgeon can look after the appendix. However, what happens if an epidemic breaks out? That’s when an epidemiologist can help.
Most people get food poisoning or the flu at some point in their lives. In many cases, they recover within a week or two, often with only limited medical help. However, when a large number of people in a community suddenly get sick with the same disease, it becomes an epidemic.
When this happens, the epidemiologists start to investigate the causes of the outbreak to see if there are any ways to treat the disease and to prevent future occurrences, whether the illness is very dangerous or not. Epidemiologists study the source of illness so that they can let people know what they need to do to stay healthy.
Epidemiologists work closely with doctors and nurses, but their training is different. Having a medical background is very helpful, but not always necessary, depending on many factors, such as geographical location and the extent of other supports. An epidemiologist working in an African village, for example, might be required to have qualifications that are not necessary for someone working in a bigger city. Normally, a degree in epidemiology or public health is the basic requirement for people working in this field.
Besides knowing about diseases, epidemiologists need to have mathematical and statistical skills. They need to be able to follow the progress of a disease and to make charts and graphs that will help other people understand the information. Epidemiologists might have to give presentations to the public or to government officials and to conduct research on various diseases. They sometimes advise the nurses and doctors who work with those kinds of illnesses.
Some epidemiologists work mainly in hospitals and laboratories, but most of them spend a lot of their time working with the public. Some of them travel to schools to give immunizations for diseases like measles and others go to seniors’ homes to help the residents deal with diseases there.
Working in remote areas or in other countries with little hospital care is also a good option for epidemiologists. If you have watched the news recently, you know about how much trouble the Ebola outbreak has caused in Africa. Epidemiologists have been hard at work over there, trying to find an answer.
Depending on where they work, epidemiologists might make between about $49,000 and $86,000 per year. Although the salary increases slightly with experience, it generally does not rise rapidly. However, with the number of diseases in the world, epidemiologists will never be out of work. If you decide to become an epidemiologist, you can expect to have an interesting and rewarding career.