As an epidemiologist, you can choose to work in two main fields:
- Research epidemiologist: If you work in a research setting, you’ll use statistical analysis and modelling to understand how diseases are caused and how they develop in populations. Research epidemiologists often inform public health policies that help prevent future epidemics and outbreaks of disease.
- Clinical epidemiologist: If you work in a clinical setting, you’ll study diseases first-hand in patients to see how they’ve developed and the effects they have. You’ll usually work in a hospital or another similar environment and you’ll be medically qualified.
Your day-to-day work as an epidemiologist will vary depending on whether you’re based in a clinical setting or a research setting. However, as an epidemiologist, you might be involved in:
- Planning and performing statistical data analysis using specialist computer software
- Providing recommendations on epidemiological issues, such as emerging global diseases, based on scientific knowledge and critical thinking
- Developing and implementing new ways of extracting, reporting and analysing information related to your work
- Conducting research for use in health policies, using both qualitative and quantitative methods
- Providing insights and interpretation for study reports; as well as writing or managing these reports
- Liaising with external colleagues and agencies across the world for collaboration, support or specific expertise
- Collaborating with Government agencies and other global health organisations to aid key policy changes and health strategies
- Communicating statistical analysis and research through publications and presentations
- Planning, coordinating and hosting international conferences and sessions related to diseases, to support global health strategies
- Evaluating the progress of epidemiological programmes and formulating progress reports and other similar documents
As an epidemiologist, you may be based in an office or in a clinical setting, such as a hospital, depending on the type of work you’re employed to do. You might also need to travel to conferences internationally to present your work or coordinate events related to health policy and strategy.
Some epidemiologists are employed to carry out field research. If this is the case, you might need to live overseas for some time while the research is carried out, in environments where infectious diseases are present. Epidemiological field researchers are often employed or recruited by international charities or organisations who aim to relieve disease outbreaks overseas, such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
You might work in either the public or private sector as an epidemiologist. If you work in the public sector, you might be employed by the NHS, the UK Health Security Agency, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or a similar organisation. In the private sector, epidemiologists often work for pharmaceutical companies.
To become an epidemiologist, you’ll need a degree in epidemiology or another relevant, science-based degree, such as public health, medicine, mathematics, nursing, statistics or biomedical science. You’ll also need a master’s degree or a PhD in the field.
If you’re interested in working as a clinical epidemiologist and have a degree in life sciences, the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) is also another option to help you get into the field. There are also similar schemes available in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
After becoming an epidemiologist, you might want to progress to another role within the area, such as a lecturer, a field epidemiologist or a consultant. To become a consultant, you’ll need to be registered with the GMC specialist register or the UK Specialist Public Health Register.