Inside The Lab: A Day In The Life Of An Epidemiologist

Public Health Online covers all things Epidemiology in this article

Job duties of an epidemiologist typically revolve around gathering medical and health information from the field, research or historical data, analyzing the data collected and presenting the findings. The findings can then be used to develop public health initiatives or discover how diseases originate, spread and can be treated. Even though humans are living longer and many diseases are no longer harming humanity the way they used to, epidemiologists are still important today. For example, diseases that were previously considered “extinct” are now making a comeback, such as measles.

The specific day-to-day job duties of an epidemiologist differ depending on the organization they work for and whether they primarily focus on research or the application of research to public health issues. However, there are basic tasks that apply to most epidemiologists, regardless of their primary area of focus. Typical job duties include:

  • Collection and analysis of research and statistical data. The data can be historical, analyzed in ways not previously anticipated, or contemporary, acquired from a recently completed research study or clinical trial.
  • The design and implementation of clinical research, trials and testing in order to treat public health problems and prevent diseases from spreading and developing. Management or development of public health initiatives based on new research data and analysis.
  • Presentation of findings resulting from research or public health programs to members of the public, government and private organizations.
  • Development and improvement of medical research methodology.

For a deeper understanding of what an epidemiologist does, it helps to go right to the source. David H. Schwartz, PhD, Head of Scientific Support to Counsel for Innovative Science Solutions spoke with us regarding his role in public health and epidemiology. Though Dr. Schwartz does not have a degree in epidemiology, the work that he does relates very strongly to the field. The following interview offers a unique perspective of typical work done by an epidemiologist.

How did you become involved with a scientific consulting firm?
After obtaining my PhD in neuroscience, I began to realize that there is a need for the ability to rigorously evaluate scientific information and to apply that analysis to a variety of venues, including legal actions, the regulatory arena and public policy. I formed Innovative Science Solutions, LLC (ISS) with my partner to address this growing need.

What is your educational background and how does it apply to your current job?
I was granted a PhD in neuroscience from Princeton University. The process of obtaining a PhD helped provide me with a deep and meaningful understanding of how science is conducted and properly interpreted. I use these fundamental principles every day in my work.

What does your day-to-day work entail?
Reviewing and evaluating the rigor of scientific information. This includes the study design, conduct and then the interpretation of the study findings. Ultimately, we need to align the evidence with the real-world problem and develop defensible arguments that are consistent with the scientific evidence.

Do you have any advice for students interested in entering public health?
I would recommend that you focus on your training and try to develop a deep and nuanced understanding of the scientific method.

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By Maeghan Myers
Maeghan Myers Graduate Student Assistant