Epidemiology involves the study of the patterns, causes and effect of health and disease in populations. It is a cornerstone of public health and helps in shaping policy and practice by identification of the risk factors for disease to and for preventative Healthcare. The goal of an Epidemiologist is to reduce the risk and occurrence of negative health outcomes through research, community education, and health policy.
The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has focused a lot of attention on the field of epidemiology. Phrases like “ trust the science” have been bandied about, and questions have arisen about what types of viruses there are, who will be affected the most, how many hospital bed will probably be needed, and what treatments there are, among other concerns. The science that answers those questions will likely be epidemiology. In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, epidemiologists identified the illness, and then found the source of the infection. They went to China and performed field investigations. They monitored and tracked the virus using data like number of new cases, number of hospitalizations, number of people on ventilators and number of deaths that occurred. They also investigated ways of containing the virus and controlling infection and provided guidelines and education to the public. That is epidemiology in action.
What can I do with a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology?
The field of Epidemiology, one of the many fields of study available within the public health field, is experiencing a continuing increase in growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports than an epidemiologist’s starting salary begins at around $42,560 and can reach over $111,000 with experience. Those who work in the pharmaceutical and scientific research industries are compensated at the higher end of that range. It is an exciting field and will be helping to improve the public health of the world. There are numerous areas of employment within the epidemiology field so it is important to find the area that is most appealing.
Jobs In Epidemiology
Although the goal of all epidemiologists is to address the problems associated with illnesses and health conditions of certain populations, there are a lot of ways to approach the issue. Within epidemiology, there are two basic designations: research and applied epidemiology. Within these areas, though, there are many specific jobs. Indeed.com recently had listings for a senior associate in health and air quality. The job paid $85,000 a year. Houston listed a job for a Deputy Director of Public Health. Another Indeed listing was an Epidemiology Data Manager at the University of Utah. That job paid $90,000 a year. Here are a few more general options.
Academic Research Epidemiologist
This professional is likely employed at a university in a teaching position or in research. The Andrew Carnegie Foundation ranks universities according to the amount of research performed and the amount of the budget that is earmarked for research. Many new discoveries come from people involved in university research, and that includes innovations in epidemiology.
The epidemiologists tasked with tracking diseases within certain populations are probably applied epidemiologists. They look for factors called “ disease indicators” and track the progression of the disease as it moves through the population. For example, viruses have been found to spread more quickly through prisons and jails where people are confined. The applied epidemiologist then looks for ways to use policy to address the disease in that population.
Climate Health Epidemiologist
These scientists study the health of the environment as it adjusts to things like climate change. Those changes affect people, but they also have an effect on wildlife and even infrastructure. Much of the work they do is preemptive, but the profession also overlaps climatology and deals with natural resources depletion.
Clinical Trial Research Epidemiology
This a field that designs protocols for studying whether a certain treatment is effective in combatting a specific disease or condition. They are expert in using statistics and other data, risk analysis and research methodology to create programs which will assess the effectiveness of things such as vaccines. They work in hospitals, university research institutes and in pharmaceutical corporate labs.
These epidemiologists study the impact of a natural or man-made disaster on a population. They look at both short-term and long-term issues such as the lack of availability of clean water and the close contact of people in shelters and how they may encourage the appearance of illnesses and contaminations. Using that data, they can take preemptive measures to lessen deaths, illnesses and injuries from disasters.
This division of epidemiology deals with causal elements of disease and determines how disease spread through an epidemic. For instance, looking backward at the Spanish Flu Pandemic, investigators determined that there was a high probability that the disease began in a small American town when the virus jumped from hogs to humans, and was spread by young men from that town who reported to military bases for training. That information can then be used to predict the outcomes for other diseases that spread from animals to humans.
These people are responsible for managing teams of epidemiologists of all sorts. They generally deal with policy-making and resource allocation within certain populations. An example of this would be the people who design and supervise protocols for dispensing vaccines and medications and recommend funding for addressing various diseases and disasters.
What are the Top Master of Public Health in Epidemiology Degree Programs?
According to the US News and World Report list of Best Public Health Epidemiology Masters Programs, the following universities and colleges are top in the field:
# 1 – Johns Hopkins – Located in Baltimore, Maryland
# Tied for 2 – Harvard University – Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts
# Tied for 2 – University of North Carolina – Located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
# 4 – University of Michigan– Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan
# 5 – Columbia University – Located in New York, New York
# 6– University of Washington – Located in Seattle, Washington
# 7 – Emory University – Located in Atlanta, Georgia
# 8 – University of Minnesota (Twin Cities) – Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota
# 9 – University of California – Located in Berkeley, California
# Tied for 10– Boston University – Located in Boston, Massachusetts
# Tied for 10–University of California – Located in Los Angeles, California
For more information, the following website outlines the top schools for a Master of Public Health Programs in Epidemiology:
Finding Your Program
While college rankings have objective markers, degree rankings usually derive from student assessments. However, some of the areas The US News and World Report looks at when composing lists such as the best epidemiology programs are faculty resources, retention and graduation rate, employment rate after graduation and other factors. It makes sense to consider the faculty resources (along with the school budget) because attracting top professors is important to getting high endowments. Large endowments allow schools to buy labs, fund scholarships and engage in research. Retention, too, is an important factor. If many students begin but don’t finish the program, there may be a problem. The rate at which graduates are employed in their major field is important as well. All of these things, and a few more, are part of the criteria that the US News and World Reports looks at when evaluating schools and programs. So, is finding the best degree program a matter of applying to the three, or five, or ten schools with the highest-ranked programs?
MPH or Master of Epidemiology
Some of the degrees listed are master’s degrees in public health with a concentration in epidemiology. Others are master’s programs in epidemiology. What is the difference? Well, both cover statistics and research methodology. The MPH is a more generalist degree, and students will acquire a background in biostatistics, research methodology, epidemiology, occupational health, environmental health and psychology and social science among other core classes. The MPH is specialized with a concentration. The Master’s in Epidemiology is a more specific program with more mathematics and computer sciences, data analysis along with biostatistics, research methodology and other courses. It is a more research-oriented degree.
So, much depends upon the program emphasis and cost as well as other factors. A master’s epidemiology degree is not a generic one-size-fits-all program. Programs differ in their slant and their intensity. Even in the best schools, the degree offerings might differ widely, and the one you select is the one that fits your career objectives. For instance, the Johns-Hopkins MPH has two concentrations: the first is for professionals already working in epidemiology who want to build or home skills in quantitative analysis and biostatistics; the second is for people who want a more generalized approach to epidemiology. Neither emphasize policy-making or climate control. So, although Johns Hopkins is number one on the US News and World Report listings, it might not be number one on yours, if you want to become a Climate Health Epidemiologist.
Getting an epidemiology master’s can be a difficult thing to do if you are already working or have other obligations. Most schools offer online or part-time programs. It takes longer to earn a degree this way, but it allows you to study at your own pace.
Several schools such as Harvard which is tied for the number two spot, have “multiple options” to earn an epidemiology master’s degree. The programs differ in how much experience or how many prior courses a student has. Harvard also emphasizes cancer and cardiovascular studies and has concentrations in things like Neuro-Psychiatric Epidemiology and Nutritional Epidemiology. So, programs at Harvard—or another school–might be a better choice for you.
The schools and degrees on the list must be evaluated in light of the amount of time you have to study, the financial resources you have, the epidemiology career you want and the experience and education you already have. The US News and World Report list is a valuable tool when used with your own discretion and considering your career aspirations.
How Much Will A Masters Degree in Public Health Epidemiology Cost?
The overall cost of a graduate degree in Epidemiology varies according to the following elements:
- The specific school that you choose
- The area of specialization you may be looking for what part of the country your school is located
- The level of degree you choose to pursue
The cost for earning a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology can cost anywhere between $12,750 – $48,710 per year for in-state tuition and fees or $20,810 – $51,090 for out-of-state tuition and fees. This cost represents tuition and fees only for a two-year graduate program, which is the most common.
The in-state tuition for an MPH at top-ranked Johns Hopkins is $71,820 for full-time study over the five terms it takes to earn the degree. If you decide to study part-time, you will pay $73,960 for eighty credits (after the Welch Scholarship is applied. All new master’s students automatically qualify for this award). There are other scholarships as well: the Bloomberg Scholarship which is a full-ride opportunity for people working in high-risk health populations, Health-Security Scholarship and other opportunities for both full-time and part-time students.
In contrast to the tuition at prestigious Johns-Hopkins, tuition at the School of Public Health at Washington University is $23,053 for each year of the program. For the two-year master, it will cost $46,006. There are seven master’s -level scholarships available. At the University of California-LA, graduate tuition is $17,486. The two-year master’s program will cost about $35,000 with fees, but this school also offers departmental scholarship and other opportunities including funding for undocumented students.
The point is that the costs vary widely and that even the top degree programs offer a variety of tuition assistance that brings down the cost of a degree.
Names like Johns Hopkins and Columbia turn employers’ heads when they see them on job applications. There is no way to deny that. There are other names on the US News and World Report list, less impressive but with excellent programs. Students looking for good epidemiology degree programs should investigate these, and other programs to get the degree they need, at a cost they can afford and with a schedule they can live with.
Even if you don’t end up choosing one of the best epidemiology programs on the list, you can use the information about the programs to evaluate the school and degree program you decide upon. There are other great schools with great programs out there. The programs listed in this article are examples of good, inclusive and comprehensive degrees that can lead to great careers in epidemiology.
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