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Epidemiology is the study of disease which focuses on protecting entire communities or populations, rather than an individual. Epidemiology is an area of specialization in public health. It is an interdisciplinary field of medical science, concerned with the study of the factors that may cause various types of health ailments to a particular community or the general public. To be more specific, Epidemiology is the study and control of disease or injury patterns in human populations.
Epidemiologist is a scientist who studies the spread of infectious diseases. Epidemiologists are often referred to as 'disease detectives' since they detect the cause of disease and takes steps to prevent its spread. Epidemiologists research the causes to determine how and why a certain disease occurred in a certain area, and the consequences of the disease. He carries his research by conducting surveys and analyzing body fluids to determine disease or illness outbreak patterns, and then they strive to control spread of disease and prevent future occurrences of illness through public health programs. Many epidemiologists make predictions about likelihood of disease occurrence, and develop prevention strategies.
Epidemiologists are concerned with improving the health of the public. An epidemiologist contributes to public health by investigating causes and prevention of epidemics. They not only take infectious diseases into consideration, but also chronic diseases, genetic diseases and disorders, as well as the effects of natural disasters, accidents, and acts of terrorism or bio-terrorism. The main duties of epidemiologists include investigating the cause of the outbreak of infectious disease and taking steps to prevent future outbreaks.
Epidemiologists can be grouped into two categories: research and clinical. Research epidemiologists conduct research in an effort to eradicate or control infectious diseases. Research epidemiologists work in colleges and universities, schools of public health, medical schools, and research and development services firms. Clinical epidemiologists work primarily in consulting roles at hospitals, informing the medical staff of infectious outbreaks and providing containment solutions. These epidemiologists sometimes are referred to as infection control professionals, and some of them are also physicians. Epidemiologists can specialize in a specific area such as environmental epidemiology, occupational epidemiology, outbreak investigation, and infection control precautions.
Not only a good background in science but also good math skills, especially in the areas of statistics and probability are prime requirements, since so much of what epidemiologists do is dependent on interpretation of data.
Epidemiologist positions require at least a masters degree in public health with an emphasis in epidemiology. But some employers prefer a medical or doctorate degree along with this. This course of study will include coursework in biostatistics, behavioral studies, health services, research and administration, immunology, toxicology and more. Research epidemiology positions always require a Ph.D. Those with advanced degrees will have a wider choice of career paths with more research and teaching positions available to them.
National Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai and National Centre for Communicable diseases, Delhi offer training programmes in this field.
For a successful career in Epidemiology, one must have the spirit of serving others. Epidemiologists should have stamina, patience, power of concentration, emotional stability, logical and analytical mind, problem solving ability, leadership quality, ability to take timely decisions, self -motivation etc. They should be able to work independently or as part of a team and be able to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing. They must be critical thinkers, who can analyze their findings, as well as recognize emergency situations when they arise. Epidemiologists must be excellent listeners, as fact-finding interviews are an important part of their research. An epidemiologist must be mathematically astute and proficient with statistical analysis and data presentation software programs. Apart from all these, one must have a pleasant attitude whatever be the situation.
As an epidemiologist, one may perform research in laboratories, investigate outbreaks of new diseases, and educate individuals about the harmful factors that influence personal health. They inspect how a disease affects the inhabitants in a certain place, the emergence of viruses in a specific geographical area, or track the occurrence of a certain ailments. Epidemiologists spend much of their time collecting data and then analyzing it. This will include the use of observations, surveys, personal interviews, blood samples and other human tissue samples to discover what is causing the spread of disease. Once they understand how a disease is spread, they then develop a means for prevention and control.
Job prospects in this field is positive. According to medical norms, every medical college must have an epidemiologist, but those trained in the field are limited compared to the demand. Those who train as epidemiologists can work in many diverse environments. They may work for public and private health institutions, government agencies, laboratories, pharmaceutical businesses or universities. Epidemiologist can work as health experts in Government agencies like World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Indian Council of medical Research responding to urgent epidemics, finding out what caused them, and helping to contain them. The State AIDS Control Societies also provide job openings for Epidemiologists. Epidemiologists can find employment in clinical development and research for pharmaceutical companies, NGOs, international organisations and national health programmes. They can be found working in hospitals to study the affects of diseases in patients. Many do academic work teaching and conducting research at universities.
The pay varies greatly depending on where they work, level of education, and experience. Those with Masters in Public Health (MPH) can earn from Rs. 20,000/- to Rs. 45,000/- per month. However this varies on the basis of posts and experience one has. Epidemiologists employed in pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing industry take home the highest salary.
National Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai and National Centre for Communicable diseases, Delhi offer field Epidemiology training programmes. There are also various other institutes that offer Master of Public Health in Epidemiology. To get the list click on the course name.
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