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What is epidemiology and what does an epidemiologist do?

Epidemiology careers are amid a huge shift, with many challenges and successes on the horizon.

Until recently, the study of epidemiology has flown mostly under our radar, however, now more than ever we’re relying on epidemiologists to pave the way for our public health system.

Epidemiology careers are amid a huge shift, with many challenges and successes on the horizon. It’s a career path where your research and discoveries have the power to dictate the safety and well-being of people around the country, and even around the world.

What is epidemiology?

Epidemiology investigates the patterns of diseases and other illnesses to help protect the health and safety of our communities. An epidemiologist looks at reoccurring patterns, trends and data related to a disease or illness and establishes risk assessments and predictions of what to expect next.

COVID-19 has rapidly changed our approach to epidemiology and has significantly increased our reliance on quick and accurate health information. Scientists need to be able to track the virus to slow the spread. They do this by collecting data on the number of cases, close contacts, hospitalisations and deaths to predict where and when the virus might spread, and who is most at risk.

Scientists collect this data not only for their own understanding but also for the public’s. You’d be very familiar with what this looks like now, with the various graphs, charts and graphics we see every day. It’s in this way epidemiology forms the vital base of the public health measures we’re so familiar with now.

epidemiology careers

What does an epidemiologist do?

The role of epidemiologists primarily is to keep the public informed on different public health issues and offer solutions to keep communities safe. They perform studies on outbreaks, their causes, transmission and effect on the public, collating all that information into accessible data and health recommendations.

There are various specialisations within the epidemiology field. Some people study the nature of infectious diseases, the way they are transmitted from person to person and their effect on the environment. Because of their deep understanding of diseases, epidemiologists also have a strong involvement in the development of vaccines. Other epidemiologists examine the effects of drugs on patients, looking at areas like their efficiency and associated side effects.

How has COVID-19 changed epidemiology?

For most of us, the emergence of COVID-19 was our first introduction to the importance and complexities of epidemiology. The analysis of data about infections, deaths and future projections has driven vital policy decisions all over the world, including lockdowns, quarantines, social distancing, masks and vaccines. We see the work of epidemiologists all around us nowadays. 

One of the biggest changes that have come out of the pandemic is our need to collaborate across borders by sharing data, research and results. The field has also been rapidly expanding, with researchers in physics, mathematics, computer science and network science playing a larger role than ever before.

There has also been a surge in the number of people relying on epidemiological data, including the public, policymakers and the media. As a result, there has been a push to find effective ways to communicate vital information to people, and how to ensure everyone has equal access to public health information.

It’s presented a new challenge for epidemiologists: communication. Now that epidemiology has been thrown into the spotlight, the way we communicate health advice and recommend actions has been widely discussed and criticised. A huge challenge moving forward will be how we communicate urgent health information.

What is the future of epidemiology careers?

As public health career paths continue to evolve, there will be a large focus on how we communicate essential health information to the public. Other key issues will include dealing with the long-term effects of COVID-19 and how to prepare for future public health emergencies.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in public health, a qualification in epidemiology will put you at the forefront of the future. Epidemiology careers are expected to continue to grow and develop significantly, at present, epidemiologists in Australia have an average base salary of $109,590.

what is epidemiology

Epidemiology with monash online

Our Graduate Certificate of Epidemiology prepares you for the dynamic future of public health career paths. The course will provide you with a rich understanding of epidemiological principles and new and emerging issues in public health. New and open-minded graduates in epidemiology are essential if we want to keep our communities safe, informed and healthy.

Learn more about what a career in epidemiology could look like for you by calling one of our course consultants on 1300 272 509 or arrange an online booking.