Epidemiology  Program Description

 
 

Insider Info

dotEpidemiology students study how and why disease spreads in human populations. They raise questions about disease and look for answers in health-related research. Biostatistics is a related field. Students learn complex mathematical techniques for understanding health-related questions.

Does smoking cigarettes have a negative effect on the health of a population? Epidemiologists have proven that it does. And now many cities are smoke-free and public buildings don't allow smoking. This is the power of their research.

Faculty and students in epidemiology and biostatistics programs work together. Medical research often combines these two fields of study. As health researchers, epidemiology students need biostatistics students to help them understand the large amounts of data.

Epidemiology and biostatistics are offered at the master's and PhD levels. That means you'll have to earn a four-year undergraduate degree first. Expect another one to three years for post-graduate study.

"The sorts of undergraduate (specific) courses we like to see in our students are things like statistics, epidemiology, research design and health-related courses. Most of our students have a university science degree -- a range from bio-medical, life sciences, health-type courses," says Duncan Hunter. He is an epidemiology professor. He adds that some applicants have psychology or sociology degrees, but that's not the recommended path to an epidemiology program.

"Our program is the fundamental science underlying public health," says Hunter. He says competition to enter the master's program is steep. Only high-caliber students make the cut. Recently, 15 students out of 70 applicants were accepted to the program.

Linda Cowan stresses that the work of epidemiologists can have a tremendous impact on communities. She is an epidemiology professor at the University of Oklahoma.

"To me, one of the most exciting things is that this is the singular way to directly study potential causes of disease in humans," she says.

The results of epidemiologists' research are used to keep societies safe from disease and prevent illness. The possibility of making the world a better place by preventing disease is what motivates a lot of epidemiology students.

There are different specialties in the field. Population epidemiology is the study of how and why disease spreads in human populations. This type of research helps promote health and prevent illness. Students in this area usually have a background in biology, sociology, psychology, statistics, economics, political science or health care.

Students of clinical epidemiology research health-care practices. They may try to determine how valuable certain medical tests are, or test the value of certain procedures. Students in this field usually also require a degree in health care, such as a medical degree.

Other divisions of epidemiology include environmental, occupational, quantitative, community, molecular and genetic epidemiology.

Students entering biostatistics need an undergraduate degree in an area such as statistics or math. Its use in medical, biomedical or environmental applications makes this area of study much narrower than statistics.

Cowan says there will be opportunities for those who want to develop new theories and methods for use in research. Graduates of epidemiology and biostatistics programs find careers in academics, industry, government, health agencies and medical institutions.

Hunter says, for high school students interested in epidemiology, "science and math certainly seem like a good place to start."

He says schools also look for "non-academic stuff" when selecting students for the master's degree program. That "stuff" can include health-related or epidemiology-related summer jobs.


Links

Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to Epidemiology and Biostatistics Degrees, see Epidemiologists

Bam! Body and Mind
Kids' resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Epidemiology
A scientific journal where you can find the latest research topics

Just the Facts

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