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Epi career options question

I'm trying to find a career path. I've always had a fondness for epidemiology, but my perception has been that a lot of the career options involve running studies. In college I was a research assistant for an MPH person who was doing data stuff (collection, analysis) for some studies, and while I think it's super-awesome that data is collected and analyzed and used to draw conclusions and answer interesting questions, the day-to-day stuff seems boring and slow-moving- there's a lot of delayed gratification and I don't think that would work for me. (Surveillance and things where the data is used more immediately sounds a bit more interesting to me.)

Are there career options that are a bit more...engaging? Epi people - what is your day-to-day like? I know people often work for health departments, but what do they *do* most of the day?

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
erikalindsay
Apr. 27th, 2011 01:58 am (UTC)
Have you checked out the MPH board on studentdoctor.net? It might be of some help to you. There are lots of different career paths you could take with an MPH. You don't need to focus on epi. I have an MPH in maternal and child health (I am now getting a PhD in epi, though), there are also environmental health programs, community health education, nutrition, etc. Health departments might offer the most stable employment opportunity, but there is a lot of work done in non-profits, too.

If you don't think delayed gratification would work for you, public health might not be for you. Most interventions fail, research itself takes forever, and health departments move at glacial paces for any project that isn't an outbreak investigation.
brbrbrad
Apr. 27th, 2011 02:32 am (UTC)
My MPH was not in epi, it was in global health, but I have been working in a quasi-epidemiology role at a local health department in a medium-size county (210,000 residents) for almost 3 years. My job title is Health Data Analyst and it's my duty to stay on top of health trends in our county and the state as a whole, keep the health director informed of emerging trends, look up data for grants and presentations, and communicate data in easy-to-understand ways such as maps, tables, charts, and graphs. For the most part I don't collect much data, except for occasional patient or community surveys.

Some people would definitely call my job boring... it requires patience and attention to detail. But it is a job with constant gratification. Most of my projects only have a duration of a couple of hours to a couple of weeks, and I usually have several projects in the queue at a time. This means I rarely go more than a few days without completing a project. Having several projects going at once also helps with the boredom - if I get tired of the teen pregnancy project, I can always change gears and work on the WIC survey. When people ask me if it ever gets boring just working with numbers all the time, I tell them that with all the special projects I do, it's like I never have the same job more than two days in a row. Who could get bored with that?

Right now ours is the only health department of its size in the state with a position like mine (not quite an epidemiologist, not quite a grantwriter, not quite a health educator), but I suspect you'll see more and more small/medium size health departments going this route, especially as they transition to electronic health records. Right now my job is on the cusp of a major change - I've been identified as the staff member who will be in charge of making sure the health department meets the criteria for "meaningful use" of our not-yet-implemented EHR system.

I'm happy to answer any questions about my job and how I got here :)
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