Is an Epidemiologist a Doctor?

We’ll be finding out if epidemiologists can be called doctors.

An epidemiologist is a public health professional known as a disease detective.

Epidemiologists study disease outbreaks and other emerging health threats to understand the causes and locations of these outbreaks.

Now it’s common to find people having difficulty adequately placing or identifying health professionals with specific titles or roles.

It’s because of this that we’ll be discussing epidemiologists and doctors.

Can An Epidemiologist Be Called A Doctor?

Before getting into details on what epidemiologists are or aren’t, we’ll need to provide some information on this profession.

In simple terms, epidemiology can be summarized as the study of health and diseases.

By collecting valuable information about diseases and outbreaks, epidemiologists can examine to identify where, when, and persons most affected by disease outbreaks and the rate of spread.

Now there are several epidemiology specializations with varying areas of focus.

An epidemiologist may be involved in public health policy development, clinical trial design & analysis, lecturing, teaching & academia.

Other roles you may perform include population studies or surveys and vaccine & drug development.

  • Epidemiologist vs. Physician

The answer lies in the type of doctor being referred to. In providing an immediate response to the question, we’ll say no, an epidemiologist isn’t a doctor.

In providing the reason(s) for such an answer, we have to consider that the role (of a doctor or physician) is being focused on.

To make further clarifications, the title of a doctor can either refer to the type of degree earned by an epidemiologist instead of their actual role.

In terms of what they do, epidemiologists have specific roles or duties, while doctors or physicians have theirs.

So, how do these roles compare? To find answers, we’ll need to identify what each professional does.

i. Duties of an Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists handle various tasks like interacting with people to collect disease-related data and traveling to disease hotspots to study outbreaks and spread.

Epidemiologists also monitor outbreaks while providing much-needed assistance in emergencies.

Laboratory tests are performed to analyze data. Further analysis is performed using computer programs that help in compiling and calculation.

Findings are reported in meetings & presentations, which are then used to design, implement and update health policies to address future outbreaks.

Epidemiologists perform these and many more responsibilities to handle disease outbreaks. With that said, the role of doctors is quite different from those of epidemiologists.

This is explained in the next point.

ii. Duties of a Doctor/Physician

While epidemiologists seek to study disease outbreaks and other emerging health threats, doctors have specific roles that are pretty different.

Their primary responsibility is to ensure the provision of optimal care to patients. These include diagnosing illnesses and similar conditions.

Others include examining a patient’s symptoms, planning and conducting a patient’s course of treatment, and administering follow-up care for patients when needed.

Medical prescription and consulting with other healthcare professionals are additional responsibilities of doctors.

Of course, doctors need to also stay ahead of the curve by keeping updated through medical research. Comparing the two, it’s clear that epidemiologists, though health professionals, have entirely different roles compared to doctors.

What’s a Public Health Epidemiology Doctor?

The “doctor” designation given to epidemiologists mostly has to do with the type of degree earned.

In other words, it simply denotes a medical research professional who has earned a Doctorate of Public Health (DrPH) in epidemiology.

This has nothing to do with the role of a doctor, as discussed above. Instead, it strictly points to the fact that this professional has earned an advanced degree.

Types of Epidemiologists

Having made clarifications, it’s time to take a look at the different types of epidemiology specializations as well as types of epidemiologists.

Epidemiologists typically specialize in one or more of the following areas; environmental health, infectious diseases, injury, and chronic diseases.

Other specializations include public health preparedness & emergency response, maternal & child health, mental health, occupational health, substance abuse, and oral health.

In identifying the types of epidemiologists, they include academic research epidemiologists, hospital epidemiologists, and epidemiology statisticians.

More types include veterinary epidemiologists, infectious disease epidemiologists, and molecular epidemiologists.

Some include field epidemiologists, medical epidemiologists, pharmaceutical epidemiologists, clinical trial research epidemiologists, supervisory epidemiologists, and climate health epidemiologists.

Let’s discuss some of these for better comprehension.

i. Academic Research Epidemiologist

As the name implies, academic epidemiologists primarily work in educational settings and study the causes and effects of viruses. Their roles include testing bodily fluids and blood samples and interviewing infected people.

ii. Hospital Epidemiologist

Hospital epidemiologists are primarily involved in designing disease prevention protocols in hospitals and clinics. Here, the focus is on improving hygiene as a preventive measure.

iii. Epidemiology Statistician

As suggested by the title, epidemiology statisticians gather data for assessment and arrive at conclusions about the severity of a problem.

iv. Veterinary Epidemiologist

Animal health isn’t left out as veterinary epidemiologists are disease control specialists focusing on animals.

Persons with veterinary medicine degrees (s) get to practice as vet epidemiologists. Not only do they prevent disease spread between animals, but these professionals also control animal-to-human disease transmission.

v. Infectious Disease Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists specializing in infectious diseases deal with all kinds of conditions, the most recent being Ebola and COVID-19.

Their advice has proven to help deal with deadly viral infections by public officials.

vi. Molecular Epidemiologist

Molecular epidemiologists focus on the link between infection and DNA.

The causes of such infection were searched, and it was found to combat the spread. Several other aspects of molecular epidemiology are equally crucial to disease prevention.

vii. Field Epidemiologist

When there’s a sudden disease outbreak, field epidemiologists are likely to attend to the problem as they travel to affected locations to get to the root cause of the problem.

An epidemiologist isn’t a doctor. This answer is better understood when considering the role or duties performed by a doctor or physician.

We’ve provided such details to help in better understanding what’s involved.