Epidemiologists examine and analyze the data about diseases and other public health issues in an attempt to find the patterns, causes and potential treatments for healthy outcomes. They coordinate and direct studies of health problems, analyze the massive amounts of data collected, discuss their findings with researchers and healthcare professionals, and manage community healthcare programs to help ensure a healthier population.
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Epidemiology is a very specific area of health sciences that requires at least a master’s degree for either clinical or research work. This guide helps those interested in the field decide which online associate or bachelor’s degree might suit their career path, and what to expect from the online master’s or doctorate program if the academic journey progresses to the graduate level.
Online Epidemiology Degrees (by level)
The online associate or bachelor’s degree is a very important stepping stone for an aspiring epidemiologist. In order to become an epidemiologist, students must earn a master’s degree in public health from an accredited institution. Many choose to go on and earn their master’s degree or PhD in public health with an emphasis on epidemiology. Choosing an associate or bachelor’s degree program in a related field provides the necessary foundation to help students pursue more advanced studies.
Online programs are an excellent alternative for those who are working full-time, have family obligations or otherwise find it difficult to attend classes at a set time and place. Flexible scheduling is a hallmark of online learning; students can often complete coursework at a time of their choosing. For instance, a busy parent might find it easiest to handle homework at night, after the children are asleep.
The nature of online education makes it a solitary pursuit, and some students might feel isolated with online learning, especially if they are accustomed to a classroom setting. To combat this, instructors are always available via email, message boards and other routes of communication, and interaction with peers is encouraged. Online students often find that they get just as much attention and “face time” with teachers and fellow students as they might if they were in a traditional classroom setting.
There is also the option of a hybrid education, a blend of online learning and classroom labs or workshops. This might be suitable for some programs that require a hands-on component, or for those who prefer to explore both sides of the education delivery spectrum. Though many programs are entirely online, some do require hands-on laboratory work or similar projects; in that case, a hybrid education can be an excellent option.
Alison wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she graduated, but she knew that she wanted to work in the healthcare world in some capacity. That’s why she chose to earn a degree in health science. Once she completed her associate degree, she set her sights on epidemiology as a career. Knowing that a master’s degree was a requirement, she transferred her associate credits towards an online bachelor’s program in statistics, and now she is well on her way to completing the second step in her career pursuit.
Starting with an Associate Degree
Those who intend to pursue a master’s degree in epidemiology can prepare by choosing the right online associate degree. Those interested in moving into epidemiology can choose topics that pertain to health and wellness, including public health, biological sciences, statistics and mathematics. Here are a few online associate degrees that could be a helpful stepping-stone toward a master’s in epidemiology:
- Medical billing and coding: Health informatics courses can prepare students to handle statistics, health records and the vast amounts of data that are necessary work for epidemiologists.
- Respiratory therapy: Learning about the various breathing issues patients might have, as well as the environmental or medical problems that might have led to those issues, can give students a strong background in anatomy and physiology, as well as help students learn to communicate properly with patients.
- Health science: This degree covers a wide range of healthcare issues, from current trends to economics to social issues. A health science degree can be a great starting point for a master’s degree in epidemiology.
- Statistics: This degree dives into numbers in every way, teaching students how to read and analyze different types of data, and offering a firm foundation of mathematics that can be used in a variety of careers upon graduation. This can be a great place for an aspiring epidemiologist as parts of the field can be highly data-driven.
- Nursing: Nursing is a discipline that requires a broad base of knowledge and skills. Statistics and mathematics, nursing theory, a strong understanding of the healthcare system and hands-on practical experience make this degree path a good choice for anyone who wants to move forward to a higher healthcare degree.
Certain that he wanted to go to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mike set out to earn his bachelor’s degree in biostatistics. He soon landed a job with a biotech firm to gain experience while he pursued his master’s degree in epidemiology online.
Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Epidemiology-Related Fields
The online bachelor’s degree in health science or a related field creates a strong foundation for the master’s degree program in epidemiology. A bachelor’s degree that focuses on health-oriented topics can help students gain admission to highly competitive epidemiology programs. Below are a few online bachelor’s degree paths that give students a strong background of knowledge and skills.
- Public health: A degree in public health with an emphasis on epidemiology prepares students for the rigorous master’s program by offering a strong foundation in health sciences, economics, sociology, and many other disciplines that play into an epidemiology career. Students should opt for diverse classes, including classes on statistics, accounting, economics and other mathematics-related disciplines in addition to core health-related courses.
- Biostatistics: Coursework in this degree program includes statistics, public health, computing and data management, statistical theory and methods, data analysis and general health topics. In some cases, biostatistics and epidemiology are combined into the same master’s course, so earning a bachelor’s degree in biostatistics is definitely a good start for the aspiring epidemiologist.
- Environmental science: This degree focuses on many courses that can hold students in good stead when they begin to search for the right master’s degree program in epidemiology. Online courses in ecology, hydrology, atmospheric sciences and geosciences are combined with instruction on statistics, pollution concerns, human health issues and the like.
- Sociology: This degree program includes courses in human development, social institutions, social theory, mathematics and statistics and social research. These courses offer a well-rounded education that forms a strong foundation for epidemiology majors.
- Nutrition: Students pursuing a nutrition or dietetics major take courses in nutrition, mathematics, biomedical sciences, anatomy and physiology, public health, chemistry, management and research. This might be especially advantageous for aspiring epidemiologists who are interested in research and studies of food supply, pollution and the like.
Aaron breathed a sigh of relief at the end of his master’s degree. He had worked full-time and gone to school online to earn the degree, and now he was ready to start fresh with a new job in infectious disease. Through contacts he made during an internship three years prior, Aaron found a position with a teaching hospital, and soon after that he was already running his own research with interns of his own.
The Online Master’s Degree in Epidemiology
The online master’s degree in epidemiology is the minimum requirement for entry-level work in the profession. The most common route is a master’s in public health with a focus on epidemiology, but degree programs that concentrate solely on epidemiology have become increasingly popular. Many master’s degree programs require students to complete a practicum or internship that can last for up to a year.
In addition to the general epidemiology master’s degree, some institutions offer highly specialized degrees suitable for those with a particular career path in mind. Some of these specialized areas include cancer, cardiovascular disease, genetics, infectious disease, environmental causes and aging, as well as numerous other options.The sample curriculum below focuses on the general epidemiology master’s degree program.
|Principles and Methodology
||Topics include the development of research, selection bias, sampling, data collection, secondary data, measurements and mathematical modeling.
|Principles in Public Health
||Focus on healthcare assessments, planning and policy development, biostatistics, administration, control initiatives and more.
|Computer Analysis in Public Health
||This focuses on computer programs designed to analyze health data. Students learn to assess the program, correct errors, identify outliers, handle numerous data sets and more.
|Topics in Infectious Disease Epidemiology
||Focus on historical and current trends in infectious disease among various populations, with emphasis on particular historical cases.
|Participatory Action Research
||Covers theory, methods and practice of PAR, power in social change, political issues, sustaining partnerships and other topics of interest under the PAR heading.
||Historical, biological and health policy perspectives are examined and integrated with knowledge and skills learned to date.
|Controversies in Epidemiology
||Focus on conflicting findings, social pressure, methodology, strength of evidence and more. Cases reviewed change with current trends and issues.
||The final requirement for the master’s degree, the thesis is a long research project devoted to data analysis and interpretation.
Online Doctorate Degrees in Epidemiology
The doctorate is the pinnacle educational attainment of any profession. It proves that a student has earned the skills and knowledge necessary to be an authority in their chosen field. The online doctorate degree in epidemiology consists of one to three years of study, and culminates in a doctoral dissertation. Those who earn the doctorate might find more opportunities open to them, such as more in-depth research studies or options for teaching.
Students can choose to specialize in various areas of epidemiology throughout their doctorate study, such as cancer research or zoonotic infectious diseases. The following examples of core courses are based on the doctoral degree for general epidemiology.
|Analysis of Health-Related Data
||This course focuses strongly on various types of data collection and sources, analyzing and reporting findings, data cleanup, data file management, analytical strategies and manuscript preparation.
||In-depth information on advanced data analysis methods, including collection and conduct of research in the public.
|Application of Biostatistics
||Focuses on statistical concepts and lesser-known methodologies. Descriptive biostatistics, probability, distributions, interval estimation, hypothesis testing and more can be studied in this course.
|Advanced Epidemiologic Study Designs
||Focuses in the use of three major study designs: case-control studies, cohort studies and clinical trials.
|Ethics and Conduct of Research
||Study of the ethical considerations, laws that pertain to public health, conflict of interests, animal research, reporting misconduct and the like.
Some online programs in epidemiology require internships to prove hands-on training in the area of study, while others simply advise that an internship would look good on a resume when it’s time to look for a job in the field. Fellowship opportunities can allow students to become more familiar with the field, spend time with colleagues who are pursuing the same goals and conduct research that interests them.