In order to become an epidemiologist, it will be necessary to receive a master's or doctorate degree from a school of public health. Many universities have schools of public health which offer graduate degrees to people interested in epidemiology and related fields. People who are interested in working with the best in the field may want to do some research and find out where noted epidemiologists such as heads of government labs and board members of professional organizations of epidemiologists got their degrees.
Preparation to become an epidemiologist can start as early as high school, with students taking lots of math and science classes to prepare for college. In college, future epidemiologists should plan on focusing on biology, public health, and related topics, and they may want to consider degrees in fields like sociology if they want to work directly with public health initiatives which are designed to prevent epidemics among the general public. In the final year of college, applications to schools of public health can be filed. These applications can be bolstered by letters of recommendation from working epidemiologists, and work experience gained by interning in medical labs or epidemiological research facilities.
In a school of public health, students are given a broad overview of a variety of public health topics, ranging from the protocol in labs which handle dangerous viruses to how to organize a public health initiative. It is a good idea to seek out internships with epidemiologists or in labs so that someone who wants a career as an epidemiologist will start to get work experience while going to school.
After graduation, a budding epidemiologist has a number of career options. People who are interested in studying the mechanics of disease might want to work in labs which organize, manage, and analyze samples of diseases from past and present epidemics. People who are interested in field research can pursue employment with government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, which will provide an opportunity to respond to an epidemic on the front lines.
Epidemiologists who would like to focus on prevention, education, and advocacy can work for government agencies, public health initiatives, and local governments. An epidemiologist can be a critical part of a team of public servants working to distribute accurate information to medical providers and the public, and epidemiologists can also help design programs which are designed to improve public health and help medical professionals identify the signs of an outbreak in the early stages.