Epidemiologists are at the front line of public health protection. They're specialists in the study of how diseases spread, and their expertise is crucial in detecting and planning for significant outbreaks or epidemics. This multidisciplinary study requires at least a master's degree in epidemiology or a related field, and doctorates are common. However, starting salaries are generally not lavish.
Average and Entry-Level Incomes:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks income data for epidemiologists. In the May 2011 edition of its Occupational Employment Statistics, the bureau cites a median income of $64,220 per year for the profession. The survey breaks salary data down further into percentiles, providing better insight into entry-level incomes in the field. The lowest-paid 10 percent of epidemiologists reported earning up to $43,380, while the lowest 25 percent reported incomes of up to $51,830. Starting salaries for most epidemiologists would fall into this lower half of overall incomes, though one person's entry-level salary might be another's mid-range income due to regional or workplace variations.
As with many other occupations, epidemiologists see a significant variation in average pay from state to state. Figures from the bureau's May 2011 Occupational Employment Statistics show Massachusetts to be highest-paying state at an average annual salary of $90,310, with California close behind at $89,460. Connecticut, North Carolina and Nevada round out the list of top-paying states. At the lower end of the scale, Mississippi's average salary is the lowest in the country at $37,600 per year. Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri were also among the lowest-paying states.
The Occupational Employment Statistics also provide salary data for the highest-paying employers and those who employ the most epidemiologists. The highest-paying employers are outpatient care facilities, at an average of $88,440 per year. Scientific research establishments offer the second-best pay at $87,570 per year, while epidemiological consulting firms paid an average of $84,680. The highest-volume employer, and therefore the one likeliest to hire new epidemiologists, was state governments, at an average salary of $60,180 per year. Local governments were the second most important employer by volume, paying an average of $61,990. Third were mainstream hospitals, paying an average of $76,180 per year.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that demand for epidemiologists will grow by 24 percent between 2010 and 2020, faster than the average for other occupations. This is due to a number of factors, including the threat of bioterrorism and increased awareness of food-borne illness. Many governments will use epidemiologists to help forecast and budget their health care expenditures, and the switch to electronic health records will improve epidemiologists' ability to perform that type of data mining.