How to Get a Job as an Epidemiologist
Epidemiologists must comfortably mesh communication prowess with critical-thinking, mathematical, and statistical skills. These medical researchers are often asked to present complicated, highly technical findings before public policy officials, so they need to understand their research inside and out as well as be able to share their findings with the broader community. Talbot is a member of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA)—an organization that offers training courses to newcomers and helps them understand the nuts and bolts of the profession. According to him, these courses are beneficial. “I think if you know you want to do hospital epidemiology or hospital infection prevention or healthcare infection prevention, training is increasingly important because it really is a different kind of language.”
What is the Job Like?
Most epidemiologists work full-time and maintain routine work schedules. Schedules may vary when public health emergencies arise and depend on the amount of fieldwork assigned at any given time. Talbot rates the job’s stress level as moderate. “It’s not overtly stressful with the occasion of having ‘fires’ to put out,” he says. Talbot pinpoints the swine influenza outbreaks of two years ago as one of those fires. “That outbreak really put my group very front and center at my institution to rapidly communicate to all the providers what was going on and implement ways to protect them and the patients from getting sick.”
“Usually that’s a little abnormal,” he adds. “But you can have an outbreak or you can have infection rates higher than you would like, and that would cause a little bit of stress because you want to reduce those outcomes.” One of the most challenging aspects of the job is changing human behavior. Talbot says getting people to understand the importance of routine hand-washing can be especially difficult. “That’s something you really have to engage on an individual level to understand why practices aren’t occurring and understand patients perceptions and address any of their misconceptions.” Trying to turn patients on to safe, new practices is not always easy, he adds, but changing minds can be the job’s most rewarding aspect.