What is the Role of an Epidemiologist?

What is the Role of an Epidemiologist?Health science majors have a plethora of fields to choose from when considering their future profession. One option is that of an epidemiologist. If you are currently working on your degree in health science and find yourself wondering, “What is the role of an epidemiologist?” then this article is for you. The role of an epidemiologist is essential to society as a disease detective. Epidemiology is the study of the origin and causes of disease. Epidemiologists work with health care professionals, laboratory scientists, and public health officials to find the source of disease and prevent it from spreading.

Disease Investigation

Epidemiologists are usually used to investigate sudden outbreaks of disease in an area. For example, if a case of meningitis is reported, an epidemiologist would be called in to track the source of the disease. They begin by gathering information about the victim(s) of the disease. This would include medical history, symptoms, lab tests, and other medical diagnostics. All of the other people in their immediate surroundings (work and home) are questioned about recent medical treatments or exams. Sometimes swabs are also taken to test for disease. The epidemiologist then analyzes this data to find a possible source. Whether the source is discovered or not, there are other things to take away from these kinds of studies: variations of symptoms, risk factors, etc. The Center for Disease Control provides a detailed example of an investigation within an Army training center. Through this investigation, epidemiologists were able to strengthen disease prevention within Army camps by enforcing the importance of vaccinations and cough etiquette.

Importance of Epidemiology

Epidemiology is a key role in any society that hopes to live longer, healthier lives. By gathering information and finding out why outbreaks occur, epidemiologists can prevent future outbreaks. The American Journal of Epidemiology has published an article outlining the link between epidemiology and public health. As epidemiologists study the health of human populations, public health officials fight the battle against disease outbreak. Epidemiologists have a huge amount of information that is essential to the continuation of good public health. They study demographics to determine whether certain peoples or areas are more likely to contract disease; they establish priorities for research and action; and they evaluate the effectiveness of the health programs often developed by public health officials. When these two factions work together, new vaccinations and preventative practices can be more effectively implemented.
Additional Resource: What Can I Do With a Master’s in Public Health?

Epidemiology and Policy

Although public health improves when departments work together, there are several arguments to be made supporting the separation of epidemiology and public policy-making. There is the obvious argument that epidemiologists have no experience or knowledge of policy and therefore cannot write an effective policy. Some people also make the claim that an epidemiologist that advocates policy cannot be fully objective in their research. While it is true that scientists must remain objective and limit their studies to their own field, epidemiologists have been dabbling in policy-making for years. Objectivity remains intact because the scientist sees both sides of the coin of outbreak and prevention, and he or she therefore better understands his or her own field. To strengthen the policy set out by epidemiologists, graduate programs may be expanded to include training in public policy.

Now that we have answered the question, “What is the role of an epidemiologist?” it is helpful to know that many scientists find incredible satisfaction in the profession. In this field, scientists are able to conduct research as well as implement disease prevention policies. They are able to see their preventative ideas take shape within the community and test for their efficacy. Anyone with a strong sense of urgency for public health improvement will have a rewarding career as an epidemiologist.