How to Become an Epidemiologist in Canada or the U.S.


Career Path Guide

Those who become epidemiologists typically have a keen interest in the scientific process, and the nature of infectious agents. They enjoy working towards finding treatments by identifying infectious agents, conducting tests and research, and analyzing their results.


Epidemiologists must have a genuine interest and passion for public health. They must be very comfortable expressing their professional opinion to other team members, such as those in research, management and public policy related positions.


In addition to an interest in the profession, they must have an aptitude for academic work in the areas of biochemistry, molecular biology, immunology and epidemiology, as well as the intellectual and emotional stamina needed to complete the necessary education in these areas.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as an epidemiologist. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become an Epidemiologist

To become an epidemiologist in Canada or the United States, the minimum educational requirement is a master’s degree in epidemiology, or a master’s degree in public health with an emphasis in epidemiology. Admission to master’s degree programs in epidemiology generally require a certain grade point average within a specified body of coursework, usually related to the physical sciences.


If you wish to pursue a specific area of epidemiology, you may need to pursue certain courses within an epidemiology program. Although this coursework may or may not be a specific requirement of your future employer, it will provide you with skills, knowledge and competencies that are suitable for specific positions. 


For example, pursuing coursework in Hospital and Molecular Epidemiology (which focuses on the molecular biology and biochemistry of infectious agents) will give you knowledge in the areas such as the pathology, immunology and molecular biology of infectious agents. In addition to this body of knowledge, you will also develop managerial skills in because of laboratory, classroom and practicum experience. This skill set and knowledge base can be used in laboratory supervision as well as in planning and developing public health programs.


With a degree in Hospital and Molecular Epidemiology, you will often qualify to work as an infection control officer, or in senior laboratory services positions in academic, research, and public health institutions.





General Job Description

Epidemiologists are responsible for identifying, investigating and describing the determinants and distribution of illness and disease, and develop means for prevention and control. For example, when a food poisoning or influenza outbreak strikes a community, epidemiologists are called upon to determine its origins and assist in the implementation of control measures. 



Typical Job Duties

• Oversee health care programs including statistical analysis, health care planning, monitoring systems and public health improvement

• Determine the causes and risk factors of diseases and parasites

• Determine the modes of transmission, progress and lifecycles of diseases and parasites

• Plan and conduct studies to investigate human or animal disease, as well as preventative methods and treatments

• Confer with physicians, health care policy analysts and other professionals

• Assist in the design and development of study protocols and health status questionnaires, sample selection and analysis



How Much Do They Earn?

The salary level of epidemiologists can vary depending on factors such as their level of experience, their level of education, their area of specialty, where they work, and many others.


Epidemiologist Salary - Canada: According to the 2016 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey (the latest figures available at the time of writing, Albertans working as part of the Biologists and Related Scientists occupational group, (which can include epidemiologists), earn an average salary of $84,998 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of updating this career guide (July 8, 2019).


Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of epidemiologists is $69,660 per year (2018 figures). The lowest 10 percent of salaries in this group are less than $42,240, and the top 10 percent are upwards of $112,600 per year.





Typical Work Environment

Working Hours: Epidemiologists typically work normal, weekday working hours. They may have to work evenings, weekends and other irregular hours in order to attend meetings, complete tasks, or in the event of a public health emergency.


Working Conditions: Epidemiologists spend the majority of their time analyzing data in a secure lab or office setting. Epidemiologists may also engage in fieldwork and participate in laboratory work; this may involve interacting with infected people, or infectious agents in sample form. Because epidemiologists take extensive precautions when engaging in work activities in the field or in a laboratory, there is minimal risk in these activities.



Who Employs Epidemiologists? Where Do They Work?

Epidemiologists may work as researchers, educators, administrators, consultants and clinicians. They are typically employed with the following types of organizations:


• Federal, provincial/state, and municipal governments, typically in disease control agencies

• Healthcare facilities such as hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities

• Universities and colleges

• Private research firms

• Chemical, agrochemical, and pharmaceutical companies

• International development agencies

• Non-profit organizations



Current Job Openings

Although job postings for epidemiologists are a rarity, from time to time they will pop up. Have a look below to see if there’s anything listed in your area:




Similar Career Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to "epidemiologist", as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Cell Biologist


Medical Scientist







Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as an epidemiologist.


Life, Physical, and Social Science:Epidemiologists.” (September 4, 2019. Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 17, 2019.

Programs:Epidemiology.” (n.d.). University of Michigan - School of Public Health website. Retrieved November 17, 2019.

Chapter 1:What is epidemiology?” (February, 2019.). The BMJ website. Retrieved November 17, 2019.

Please Note: Much of the information for this career guide was gathered from actual job postings, which due to the brief nature of their online presence, are not listed here as sources.



Scholarships for Becoming an Epidemiologist

Scholarships in our database that are relevant for becoming an epidemiologist are all of those found on our Biochemistry Scholarships and Biology Scholarships pages.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Areas of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for getting into this field. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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