Career Snapshots: Public Health
- Epidemiology: field epidemiologist, hospital or clinical epidemiologist, infection control, research analyst
- Environmental Health: environmental health specialist, occupational health and safety specialist, toxicologist, environmental protection officer
- Community Health: health educator, community health worker, health care coordinators
As an epidemiologist you will use clues to investigate cases and analyze data to solve disease outbreaks and save lives. Epidemiologists are called “disease detectives” because they investigate how and why contagious diseases happen. Epidemiologists identify the cause of a disease or address the problems associated with a condition to prevent future cases. You may collect samples or consider the affected community to identify potential risks that may cause infection. Epidemiologists study many kinds of chronic diseases and their causes, such as tobacco use, physical activity, and nutrition, as well as injuries and foodborne illnesses.
In terms of food safety, epidemiology is the key to understanding the impact of foodborne illnesses. A foodborne illness is an infection or irritation of the stomach caused by food or beverages that contain harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses, or chemicals. Every year millions of Americans are sickened or hospitalized by foodborne illnesses. When a foodborne illness outbreak is detected, epidemiologists work quickly to collect as much information as possible to find out what is causing it, so they can act to prevent more people from getting sick. They combine disease patterns, places of possible contamination, and the specific causes of the disease together to identify the source of the outbreak. Epidemiologists take action, such as warning the public, when there is clear and convincing information linking illness to a contaminated food.
Education and Training
Epidemiologists use specialized knowledge of statistics and other sciences like microbiology, biochemistry, and social science to solve complex public health problems and make important decisions.
In order to become an epidemiologist, a master’s degree is the minimum educational requirement. The most common master’s degree is in public health with a specialization in epidemiology. A public health degree is not a requirement, and many epidemiologists obtain master’s degrees in other fields and specialize in other areas. Many epidemiologists have doctorate or medical degrees, especially if they plan on teaching at the post-secondary level or overseeing medical research studies. At the undergraduate level, most epidemiologists have backgrounds in public health, biology, medicine, and statistics.
Learn more about this career path at Louisiana State University’s School of Public Health.
Environmental Health Specialist
As an environmental health specialist, you may ensure food is safe by educating, inspecting, and investigating facilities within the food supply chain, including farms and manufacturers, restaurants, and grocery stores. You may help improve water and sanitation facilities at recreational areas, nursing homes, schools, restaurants, and other locations.
Environmental health focuses on the relationship between people and their environment, promoting healthy and safe communities. Environmental health specialists work to reduce harmful exposures in the air, water, soil, and food. They educate clients on environmental health issues and manage programs to prevent toxic waste pollution, control insects and rodents, dispose of waste, and ensure a clean water supply. They evaluate the handling, processing, and serving of food and dairy to identify hazards and ensure food safety compliance. Environmental health specialists also work on the federal level to evaluate the safety of new ingredients for food and the safety of new color additives, ensure properly labeled food, dietary supplements, and cosmetics, and promote valuable food safety practices.
Education and Training
Most environmental health specialists earn bachelor’s degrees in environmental health. Other related degrees include biology, microbiology, or chemistry. Master’s and doctoral degrees can be earned and a Registered Environmental Health Specialist/Registered Sanitarian (REHS/RS) credential is available from the National Environmental Health Association.
Texas Southern University offers a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Health. This degree is accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Accreditation Council.
Mississippi Valley State University offers three undergraduate programs (Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental Health) as well as two graduate programs (Bioinformatics and Environmental Health). This degree is accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Accreditation Council.
Louisiana State University Health’s School of Public Health offers a Master of Public Health (MPH) program in Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences.