Epidemiologists are researchers who work to answer questions like why some people have chronic pain while others don’t and why vegetarians might live longer than those who eat meat.
Epidemiology is a study of public health that deals with understanding which people get sick and why.
Epidemiology first started by studying severe diseases like cholera. Over the years, the field has evolved to look at many conditions, social problems, injuries, and other health problems.
This field of science aims to determine which part of the population is affected by these health conditions and how they can be prevented and treated.
At its heart, epidemiology is the science of diseases. Epidemiology is a part of public health that studies these illnesses and understands how they spread through the population.
The goal is to gain an understanding that can be used to control the spread of diseases and prevent health problems.
It is a data-driven, systematic, and scientific study of the determinants and distribution of health-related events in specific populations. Epidemiology also deals with other areas affecting health, such as:
- Natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes
- Non-infectious diseases like cancer
- Injuries such as domestic violence and suicide
- Foodborne illnesses such as E. Coli and salmonella
- Environmental exposure to air pollutants and heavy metals
Role and Responsibilities of Epidemiologists
Epidemiologists are public health employees responsible for investigating illnesses. Their specific roles and responsibilities will depend on the health challenges they study and the populations they work with.
Some of the most common duties of epidemiologists include collecting data, conducting research, analyzing data, finding underlying causes, and identifying patterns.
Epidemiologists must also communicate regularly with policymakers and develop initiatives and public health programs. Their goal is to enhance the health of communities and reduce adverse outcomes.
How Much Do Epidemiologists Earn?
Several factors will affect the earning potential of an epidemiologist, such as their experience, educational background, the organization they work in, and geographical location.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of epidemiologists is $86,740. As you gain more experience in the field, you can earn higher salaries.
There are many epidemiology positions available to choose from if you are currently studying public health.
When you enroll in the DNP-FNP program online program at Marymount University, you will gain the policy awareness, evidence-based knowledge, and clinical experience you need.
For aspiring epidemiologists, it is also essential to gain a deep understanding of the best research protocols and practices used in this field.
If you are interested in a role in public health, having an education that supports your goals is crucial. The right degree will empower you to build a career in epidemiology and if salary is key to making your decision on a career in public health, consider the highest paying PA jobs based on location.
One of the most important things to understand about epidemiology is that it studies health conditions at a population level and not at the individual level.
That is what sets epidemiologists apart from clinicians. Clinicians and doctors are concerned about how a disease affects an individual, working with individual patients to diagnose diseases and treat them.
Epidemiologists are concerned with how health conditions affect the community. They study populations to detect illnesses, determine the prevalence of diseases, who is affected, determinants of health, and how to prevent illnesses at the community level through public health interventions and treatment protocols.
Epidemiologists conduct their studies about health conditions and diseases in various ways. To understand who is affected by diseases, they try to determine which section of a community is impacted.
They also study the prevalence of a health condition by work role, geography, income, ethnicity, sex, and age. They look at living conditions, childhood exposure, genetic disposition, and more.
Finding the Causes of Diseases
One of the most important jobs of an epidemiologist is determining the cause of various diseases.
Finding out which part of the population gets sick is the first step of the process before they can find out why people get sick.
Epidemiologists often rely on other scientific fields to determine the causes of diseases. They turn to the study of genetics to determine if a particular part of the population is predisposed to infection.
They may also need to dig deeper to find other factors that protect certain people from those same diseases.
Understanding why diseases occur is not an easy task, and there are many problems they must deal with before they can determine a cause for a specific health outcome.
They need to study how strong the association is between an outcome and an event. They must determine if everyone in the population is affected in the same way and if other factors might contribute to developing the illness.
Epidemiological studies are challenging because there are many criteria for causation. This is also one of the reasons why these professions are circumspect when it comes to stating the outcomes of their research.
There are several different types of epidemiological studies, such as prospective, retrospective, experimental, and observational.
Observational studies include case-control studies, cohort studies, and cross-sectional studies with experimental work consisting of randomized controlled studies.
These are crucial and form the foundation for all public health strategies and policies, playing an essential role in improving and protecting the population’s health.
Studying the Distribution of Diseases
Within the population, diseases are not randomly distributed. If they were randomly distributed, it would mean there are no risk factors, and only sheer luck can prevent or cause disease from occurring.
If this were the case, epidemiologists wouldn’t be able to determine which part of the population was at risk. Without this risk information, there can be no effective prevention methods.
Diseases are not random, so epidemiologists spend a lot of time researching why certain people get sick while others don’t.
It allows them to develop prevention campaigns and strategies. Given below are a few different ways epidemiologists study the distribution of diseases.
Epidemiologists start by determining which individuals are getting sick. They study if people experiencing certain diseases have anything in common, such as age, gender, or geographical location.
They also look at people who do not experience the same illness to see if they have anything in common.
Understanding the distribution and patterns of disease is helpful for clinicians and healthcare professionals trying to diagnose patients.
Knowing these patterns is also vital for public health organizations, so they know how to use their limited resources.
It allows them to determine which issues to address first and how to create and communicate public health initiatives to generate the best results.
Other than demographic characteristics, geographical location can also have a significant impact on the health of people.
Families living closer to polluting factories, for example, may have poorer health outcomes than those living in areas where the air is clean.
Many infectious diseases also depend on geographical location. Illnesses caused by mosquitos, such as Zika, dengue, and malaria, are prevalent in the tropics but are not common in colder regions where different mosquito species tend to live.
For a healthcare professional, knowing if a patient has recently traveled to a tropical location can help diagnose infectious diseases more accurately.
Health behaviors also tend to vary depending on the geographical location. Understanding and studying the behavior or distribution of illness by geographical area is essential for public health and healthcare professionals.
Time is also an important factor that epidemiologists must consider because the distribution of diseases can also change over time.
How Epidemiologists Study Populations
Epidemiologists study populations and not individuals. A population refers to a group of people sharing a common characteristic. For example, a population can be residents of the U.S. with type 1 diabetes.
For epidemiologists, the population can be any group of people about whom they need to be able to make a statement.
For example, they might be interested in determining if the grade point average of a student is affected by the amount of sleep a student gets.
If they were interested in studying this relationship in college students, their population would be full-time undergraduates.
Epidemiologists will then have to narrow down this population since there are millions of full-time undergraduates worldwide.
Epidemiologists must draw a sample from this population to conduct a study. This will be a smaller group, like their target population.
That is important because the results can be safely generalized to that entire population. Epidemiologists will then recruit a sample from this target population.
Population-level statistics can be powerful because they allow epidemiologists to understand why specific populations are at a higher risk of developing diseases than others.
It is also important to remember that when studying aggregated statistics, an individual’s risk may be lost in the group.
The statistics tell a story about the group as a whole, but the same findings may not apply to an individual.
When studying a sample of full-time undergraduates, for example, to determine if the amount of sleep they get affects their GPA, the results may determine that female students tend to get more sleep per night compared to male students.
This information may allow us to note a difference between the two genders at a population level but not about individuals. It is easy to find students within this sample where this finding may not hold true.
When studying and analyzing epidemiological data, it is crucial to remember that this data refers not to individuals but to groups.
Controlling Health Outcomes
Epidemiologists collect data through the various methods listed above and analyze it to draw information about the determinants and distributions of diseases to control health outcomes.
That is the goal of epidemiology. Public health is mainly concerned with improving wellness and preventing infections in the population, and epidemiology plays a crucial part in that.
Simply knowing about the distribution of a disease or the factors that affect a health outcome is not enough.
The only way to positively contribute to the public’s overall health is by using this information to act. Epidemiologists need to act based on their findings to make a meaningful difference in the health of a community.
Many actions taken by public health authorities, such as clinical practice changes, regulation and policy changes, and health education campaigns, are based on the findings and data uncovered by epidemiologists. In most cases, epidemiologists do not act by themselves.
They need to collaborate with other professionals in public health and related fields to determine the right action to take. The data they generate through their studies forms the foundation for these actions.
The effectiveness of these public health actions should also be evaluated formally in collaboration with epidemiologists to determine their effectiveness.
Epidemiologists play an essential role in public health. These professionals collect data about negative health outcomes, diseases, and injuries and then analyze the data to uncover trends.
The work done by epidemiologists helps public health organizations reduce and control adverse effects and improve the well-being of populations.
If you are considering a career in epidemiology, you will be able to make a meaningful difference in public health. Over the last few years, the coronavirus pandemic has brought this career into the limelight.
A degree that allows you to work in public health will open many new doors and prepare you for an exciting career. There are several different roles you can pursue.
Many students enter the public health field to work as community health workers allowing them to work directly with communities.
Others prefer to work as public health coordinators, designing and implementing public health initiatives. You can also choose to work as a public health researcher or educator, where you can play a crucial role in improving public health.
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