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Whether they investigate the triggers of an infection for a public health agency or collect blood samples at an outpatient care center, epidemiologists examine the causes of diseases to prevent them from transmitting and recurring. These medical scientists might work in hospitals, laboratories or universities, or for pharmaceutical companies or health insurers. At a hospital, “the role is basically like a public health officer,” says Tom Talbot, chief hospital epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. An epidemiologist, also known as a medical scientist, conducts infection surveillance – tracking infections, reading data, assessing where problems may reside and deciding where intervention is needed. Talbot says epidemiologists have the opportunity to provide thoughtful, scientific analysis to help improve the care of patients and the safety of health care workers. “There are lots of unanswered questions that bright, energetic people are needed to help address,” he says.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment growth of about 13 percent between 2012 and 2022. Job prospects look promising, especially for medical scientists looking to work for state or local governments and general medical or surgical hospitals.


These medical professionals raked in a comfortable median salary of $65,270 in 2012. The highest-paid medical scientists earned more than $108,320, while the lowest-paid made less than $42,620. Industries that pay particularly well include scientific research and development services, and insurance carriers. The best-compensated in the profession live in the metropolitan areas of Oakland, Calif., San Diego and Denver.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $84,100
Median $65,270
25th Percentile $51,230


Most medical scientists hold a master’s degree in public health from an accredited postsecondary institution. Some go a step further and earn a Ph.D. in their chosen field. Pertinent epidemiology coursework includes public health, biology and biostatistics. Many epidemiologists also hold medical degrees. Internships or shadowing opportunities are recommended for those interested in gaining experience in the profession.

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Epidemiologists must comfortably mesh communication prowess with critical-thinking, mathematical and statistical skills. They are often asked to present highly technical findings before public policy officials, so they need to understand their research inside and out as well as communicate their findings to the broader community. Talbot is a member of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, an organization that offers training courses for newcomers and aims to help them understand the nuts and bolts of the profession. “If you know you want to do hospital epidemiology or hospital infection prevention or health care infection prevention, training is increasingly important because it really is a different kind of language,” Talbot says.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility fair Average
Stress Level fair Average
Flexibility fair Average
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Last updated by Katy Marquardt.

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