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What is Epidemiology?
By Staff Writer

Epidemiology sparks a lot of curiosity. People have plenty of questions like “what is the epidemiological study definition?” or “what are the uses of epidemiology?” Basically, imagine that a patient is sick and you’re trying to figure out why. Now imagine that your “patient” is actually an entire group of people. The objective of epidemiology is to figure out what causes different health outcomes in different groups of people. These groups can be as small as a neighborhood or as large as the global population. Epidemiologists look at symptoms, patterns, and other factors. They use data to figure out how they can solve epidemics and prevent future ones.

A lot of people think of diseases when they hear “epidemiology.” However, the scope of epidemiology goes much further than that. Yes, epidemiologists do study diseases, but they also study things like terrorism, environmental damage, and natural disasters. Basically, if something can impact a community’s overall health, epidemiologists study it. As a result, the functions of epidemiology lead to healthier, safer communities.

What Are the Uses of Epidemiology?

The importance of epidemiology cannot be overstated. Epidemiology saves lives and improves global, long-term health. The aims of epidemiology are to prevent and reverse negative health outcomes, and the uses of epidemiology are most important for communities that experience a lot of poverty or instability.

Researchers achieve the functions of epidemiology by using the “Five W’s:” Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

Who: First, researchers determine who is effected by the event or disease. Is it an entire country? A single neighborhood? Is it inside or outside the US? The aims of epidemiology all involve protecting people, so the communities themselves matter for the research.
What: What exactly is impacting the community? Is it an infectious disease? Is it a non-infectious disease like cancer or diabetes? Is it a high risk for terrorism? The objective of epidemiology is to define the problem and figure out how to stop it. There are different functions of epidemiology, but they all ask this question.
When: The next objective of epidemiology asks when exactly the event occured. When did this community start showing symptoms? By figuring out when the problem started, researchers can study correlation and even nail down causes. They’ll notice certain patterns that can make a difference.
Where: Epidemiologists ask where the disease or event orginated. The scope of epidemiology tracks how far the disease spread.
Why: The backbone of epidemiology is figuring out why an event took place. This way, researchers can prevent the event from happening in the future. The “why” question is central to the importance of epidemiology. Some may say that it’s the crux of the epidemiological study definition.

All of the uses of epidemiology involve these five questions. No matter what form of epidemiology you pursue, you’ll delve into these questions all the time.

What Can I Do With a Degree in Epidemiology?

If you recognize the importance of epidemiology and want to pursue it as a career, then there are lots of ways for you to get there. Since the epidemiological study definition is so broad, people get there from different pathways. Many epidemiologists start with a degree in public health. However, other science and medicine degrees can lead to an epidemiology career. For example, some RNs move on to epidemiology careers. Once you’ve obtained your bachelor’s degree, you might pursue a master’s degree in epidemiology, or you might seek a certificate instead.

Once you’ve obtained your degree, what can you do with your career? Again, you have lots of options. The scope of epidemiology goes far. Since the aims of epidemiology go so far and wide, you can look for jobs in all kinds of places. For example, you might conduct research in a university or a government research facility. Other medical professionals will use your research to treat and educate different populations. You might conduct clinical trials to determine the effectiveness and side effects of certain drugs. If you become a field epidemiologist, you can travel and treat effected populations directly. These are just a few of your potential career paths. The uses of epidemiology can be found virtually everywhere. Epidemiologists do important work, so they’re welcomed in all sorts of workplace settings.

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