How to Get a Job as an Epidemiologist
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.
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What is the Job Like?
Most epidemiologists work full time and maintain a routine work schedule. Schedules may vary when public health emergencies arise and depend on the amount of fieldwork assigned at a given time. Talbot rates the job’s stress level as moderate, saying “it’s not overtly stressful.” However, there are occasional “fires to put out,” he says, citing the H1N1 influenza outbreaks 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,” he says.
One of the challenges of the job is changing human behavior, such as convincing people that routine hand-washing is important. “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,” Talbot says. Trying to turn patients on to safe practices is not always easy, he adds, but changing minds can be the job’s most rewarding aspect.
Last updated by Katy Marquardt.