In its simplest explanation, Epidemiology is the study of epidemics. It’s the branch of medicine dealing with the incidence and prevalence of disease in large populations. It’s also concerned with detecting the source and cause of infectious disease.
Major infectious diseases not only have serious health-related consequences—being disasters that affect a vast range of communities within a larger population, they also have policy and social implications that need to be addressed. An education in Epidemiology is extremely important in giving people the skills they need to help inform decisions around public health policy, screening, and prevention in the event of infectious disease spread.
There are a wide variety of careers available to those who study Epidemiology. In fact, there are at least 100 career options for budding Epidemiologists! Some of them include Biostatician, Research Data Analyst, Research Assistant in Health Economics, Pharmacoepidemiologist, Director of Epidemiology, Communicable Disease Nurse, Research Coordinator, Infection Control Practitioner, Clinical Supervisor, University Faculty Member, and many more.
Online courses taught through Coursera enable learners to think critically about epidemiological concepts. Lessons explore how to measure the health of populations, assess interventions, collect and analyze data, and investigate infectious disease outbreaks.
Epidemics and pandemics throughout history are covered in available online courses, including the flu, childhood diseases such as measles and whooping cough (and their recent comebacks), malaria, and others. The spread of infectious diseases between people, and the increase in disease surveillance through mobile technology, are examined as well.
Through Coursera, lessons in Epidemiology are applied through a variety of projects. Learners perform a wide variety of project exercises to solve authentic problems encountered by Epidemiologists. There are also exercises on the design and critique of epidemiological research.
A work history or coursework that includes medicine, biology, or statistics is helpful for learning epidemiology. This work can come from hands-on experience working in a clinic or in a laboratory. Experience working with different statistical methods for analyzing data can be beneficial, especially descriptive methods. Data analysis skills can also be important. Epidemiologists often use tables and graphs to display the rates of the health problem they are studying. Being able to read, interpret, and display data in these methods is useful. Some knowledge of mathematics, especially calculus, can be an asset for learning epidemiology.
The kind of people best suited for roles in epidemiology enjoy solving problems and looking for trends in available data. They tend to have strong research and data analysis skills that they can put to work reviewing metrics like disease counts, rates of transmission, and locations of cases. Additionally, they may compare these metrics to track the progression of a disease and calculate risk for groups and geographic regions. Individuals with a desire to help others by preventing disease outbreaks and saving lives are often well-suited to learn epidemiology.
Learning epidemiology may be right for you if you would like to learn more about the work public health officials do and understand how they develop plans to monitor and manage disease outbreaks. You can explore the methods epidemiologists use to collect, analyze, and interpret the data they use to trace the progression of communicable diseases. It also may be right for you if you want to understand the different types of vaccines, how researchers develop vaccines, and the way vaccines slow the progression of a disease or prevent symptoms from worsening. When learning about epidemiology, you have an opportunity to expand your knowledge about historical disease outbreaks, including their causes, effects, and the role of public health officials.