Epidemiology Scope and Objectives

Epidemiology has been defined as the study of the distribution and determinants of disease and injury in human populations. Epidemiologists study variations of disease in relation to such factors as age, sex, race, occupational and social characteristics, place of residence, susceptibility, exposure to specific agents, or other pertinent characteristics. Also of concern are the temporal distribution of disease, examination of trends, cyclical patterns, and intervals between exposure to causative factors and onset of disease. The scope of the field extends from study of the patterns of disease to the causes of disease and to the control or prevention of disease. What distinguishes epidemiology from other clinical sciences is the focus on health problems in population groups rather than in individuals.

Epidemiology is a young field with constantly expanding boundaries. The range of activities that may be at least partly epidemiologic includes determination of the health needs of populations, investigation and control of disease outbreaks, study of environmental and industrial hazards, evaluation of preventive or curative programs or treatments, and evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency of intervention or control strategies. Many tools of epidemiology are borrowed from other fields such as microbiology, immunology, medicine, statistics, demography, and medical geography.

There is a growing core of purely epidemiologic methodology that includes not only statistical methodology and principles of study design, but a unique way of thinking that is beyond the rote memorization of rules. The contribution of epidemiology to any study involving groups of people is being increasingly recognized and demanded.

Epidemiologists may work in many settings, including international health agencies, state and local health departments, federal government agencies and health programs, health maintenance organizations, colleges and universities, and numerous research projects privately and publicly sponsored.

The objectives of the Department of Epidemiology fall into three broad categories -- research, teaching, and community service. Degrees offered include the M.S. and Ph.D. in Epidemiology and, through the School of Public Health, the M.P.H. and Dr.P.H. with a specialization in epidemiology (see Public Health Schoolwide Programs).


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