How to Become a Epidemiologist in the UK
Epidemiologists are essential to our understanding of disease, the prevention of disease epidemics and positive health outcomes for the public.
If you want to be part of this incredible field, then start your journey to becoming an epidemiologist today.
What Does an Epidemiologist do?
Epidemiology is the medical field which investigates the patterns, causes, symptoms, distribution and effects of diseases.
Epidemiologists act in the interests of public health, studying communities and populations, making recommendations and carrying out studies to find out more about the health problem and its impact. Based on this, they also make recommendations to policymakers and public health programs to halt disease spread and development.
Epidemiologists may study non-infectious and infectious diseases, examining the spread and impact of a disease on a population as well as the development of vaccines.
The day-to-day duties of an epidemiologist will depend on the area of epidemiology that you work in. However, some of the responsibilities of an epidemiologist might be:
The work of an epidemiologist is diverse and challenging but can be very rewarding as you are impacting the health of everyone, from small communities to the global population. You might work in a laboratory or office setting in the UK, or you might work primarily in the field either in the UK or abroad with people who have diseases. Following health and safety protocols in the field is therefore essential.
What Qualifications Are Needed To Become An Epidemiologist?
Epidemiologists will need to have a qualification in science, medicine or health, and the majority of posts require at least up to postgraduate education. This is usually either a master’s degree (MSc) or a PhD in an area such as public health, biological science or statistical science. Many students opt to specialise in epidemiology as a master’s degree or as part of their degree.
If you are looking for a postgraduate course or are planning your career path into epidemiology, then most postgraduate courses, such as a master of public health degree at most institutions, will require at least a 2:2 bachelor’s degree in a related field. This could include medicine, biology, health science, microbiology, healthcare sciences, physiology, statistics, nursing or mathematics.
Additional requirements are likely to be evidence of mathematics skills (A-level maths or statistical or mathematical elements in your undergraduate degree), and having some relevant work experience is preferred.
If you do not have relevant A Levels or higher education degrees yet, then online Health courses can help you get the qualifications you need. You can find courses for all levels, from Level 2 diplomas to masters degrees, as well as access to higher education diplomas to help those who do not have the necessary qualifications to enter on to a health-related degree course. You can study full-time or part-time, access all materials, and submit coursework online, in person or through blended learning.
What Skills Are Needed To Become An Epidemiologist?
There are several skills needed to become an epidemiologist, especially as the job carries with it a great responsibility to provide accurate and reliable information to help the health of the population. Some of the skills needed in this career include:
Ability to carry out experiments, laboratory testing and statistical analysis
Ability to use data analysis tools and lab equipment accurately
Critical thinking and analytical skills
In-depth knowledge of disease, infection control, biostatistics and human biology
Empathy and confidentiality when working with patients' personal data
Does Becoming An Epidemiologist Need Any Work Experience?
Work experience in a laboratory, hospital or pharmacy-related role is very beneficial when applying for postgraduate courses or doctoral degrees and especially when applying for jobs.
You can find roles by browsing current internships or work experience placements or exploring specific sites such as the NHS website or Gov website to find roles in the medical and public health fields. The Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) also has a list of pharmaceutical employers so you can find pharmacy-related work experience.
If you are struggling to find paid employment or a work placement, then there are also a range of NHS volunteering schemes and public health volunteering roles available where you can gain valuable experience. Having a qualification will improve your work experience and voluntary opportunities, so if you do not have a qualification yet, then studying an online health course, as noted in the above section, is a great option. You can study alongside your work experience or in preparation for finding work experience.
Career Prospects For An Epidemiologist
The job outlook in the field of epidemiology is very diverse, with opportunities to work in local government, government agencies, national institutes of health, pharmaceutical companies and in scientific research.
Epidemiologist jobs in the NHS, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention or the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities have a structured career path. You will have designated steps if you wish to become a professional epidemiologist and will go through the grades during your career.
Other organisations vary in terms of job growth, but most organisations will allow you to progress from entry-level epidemiology to senior roles.
Depending on your qualifications, you could specialise in different areas. For example, if you have a medical degree, then you might go into academic medical research in epidemiology. There are also epidemiology jobs in environmental health and in the social sciences, and if you gain more professional development certifications, you can also go on to become a consultant epidemiologist.