Epidemiology is the study of how to keep the population healthy. A large of part of epidemiology is determining the cause of disease, providing education about it, and creating plans to prevent and mitigate widespread illnesses.
Suzanne Richins, DHA, faculty member in Capella University’s School of Nursing & Health Sciences Department of Health Care, discusses the public health issues supported by epidemiology and benefits of advanced education in the field.
Q. Why is epidemiology important?
A. Since 1980, approximately 1-to-3 new infectious diseases have been identified each year. Others have re-emerged, causing greater numbers of cases than before or affecting different populations. Some have even developed resistance to available treatments.
Public health departments work to anticipate and respond to such diseases. They ensure that rules and regulations are in place to optimize the health of individuals. These include such environmental issues as clean air and water safety.
Q. What public health issues or events are investigated in epidemiology?
A. Epidemiologists investigate infectious disease when an outbreak occurs, like the measles outbreak at Disneyland last year or the Ebola outbreak that started in Africa and spread worldwide. Epidemiologists were involved in determining how to stop the spread, protect health care workers, and create plans to protect people on a daily basis.
In the case of Ebola, public health workers taught East Africans safer ways to conduct funeral and burial rituals to prevent the spread of the disease. In addition, when nurses in the U.S. were infected while taking off protective gear, epidemiologists devised and disseminated information to prevent this type of contamination.
Epidemiology is not only concerned with infectious diseases. It also tackles lifestyle issues like obesity and the diseases that occur from obesity. Prevention of sports injuries and concussions is another growing area within epidemiology. It is a diverse field.
Q. What skills and abilities can one acquire in a doctoral-level public health program?
A. The Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) is designed to prepare graduates for leadership positions in infectious disease prevention. Learners will be equipped with a solid foundation in public health theory and practice, as well as the leadership and critical thinking skills to initiate programs to improve population-based health disparities.
Q. What career opportunities are available with an advanced degree in this field?
A. Health departments employ epidemiologists, as do hospitals and research organizations—both private and public. Graduates of an epidemiology doctoral program may also work as adjunct, part-time or full-time college faculty. Additional job titles may include:
- Disease surveillance specialist
- Health research analyst
- Director of prevention and control
- Chief public health advisor
Q. Why should someone consider pursuing this field?
A. Epidemiology is a vast and dynamic field in which a person can make a positive difference on a global scale. From infectious disease to cancer to obesity, epidemiology addresses some of the world’s most pressing problems.
In the U.S. alone, the advent of the Affordable Care Act and its focus on preventative care has opened up whole new areas of public health inquiry. Recently, the National Cancer Institute published an article that talks about the future of epidemiology as it relates to precision medicine. These are just a couple of examples of what makes this an exciting career choice.
Learn more about Capella’s online public health programs.