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Applied Epidemiology- MD vs PhD

mlb5431

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Feb 26, 2013
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    Hello,

    I am currently going into my Master's of Public Health and taking up Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases. I am unsure about what I should so after though. I want to work in the field as an applied epidemiologist following outbreaks of infectious disease. I am open to both domestic and international outbreaks. My dream is to work for the CDC, and more specifically start off in the EIS program. My big question is how do I get there. It seems most high ranking officials in the CDC and the majority of the people in EIS are all MD/MPHs. While I am not opposed to this route, I know it will be costly and a PhD in Epidemiology will be much more affordable.
    Does anyone know what an MD/MPH provides in terms of job opportunities in epidemiology as compared to a PhD? Is there a dramatic difference between the two? Would I still be able to work in the field as an epidemiologist and do the same things as a physician with a PhD? Thank you so much for your help this confusion is driving me insane!
     
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    Stories

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      There will be things you won't be able to do with a PhD versus the MD: clinical work is the biggest one. Compensation is another. But in general, because the focuses of each degree is dramatically different, different personality types tend to go for one degree over the other, so there's no one right path to the position you're interested in. You can get there in any manner of ways.
       

      MolBio

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        Hello,

        I am currently going into my Master's of Public Health and taking up Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases. I am unsure about what I should so after though. I want to work in the field as an applied epidemiologist following outbreaks of infectious disease. I am open to both domestic and international outbreaks. My dream is to work for the CDC, and more specifically start off in the EIS program. My big question is how do I get there. It seems most high ranking officials in the CDC and the majority of the people in EIS are all MD/MPHs. While I am not opposed to this route, I know it will be costly and a PhD in Epidemiology will be much more affordable.
        Does anyone know what an MD/MPH provides in terms of job opportunities in epidemiology as compared to a PhD? Is there a dramatic difference between the two? Would I still be able to work in the field as an epidemiologist and do the same things as a physician with a PhD? Thank you so much for your help this confusion is driving me insane!

        Actually, you can do applied epidemiology with just an MPH, especially at the state and city level health departments, and they can be interesting and rewarding. CDC also has an applied epi fellowship for exactly this, it's called the CSTE applied epi fellowship.

        The main difference with having an MD or a PhD will be the pay grade and career seniority that you could potentially get down the road. It's hard to tell from your post, but it sounds like you are more at the beginning of your career, and if so my advice would be to start with just the MPH and work as an epidemiologist first and see what type of work you like and how far you can get with the MPH.

        I wouldn't get an MD in the United States with the primary purpose of going into public health, because of the cost and workload required. As for the PhD, bear in mind that you will spend a 4-5 years in academia with a research orientation, which is somewhat different than your original goal.

        Just things to keep in mind. Good luck.
         

        Solara

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        Feb 17, 2013
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          One of my professors is an MD (only degree), and teaches infectious diseases epidemiology at my school. She worked at WHO and CDC, and is also an EIS officer. Her advice on this subject has been to get the MD over the PhD (or even MD/PhD) because the clinical training cannot be obtained elsewhere if you just go for the PhD. Of course she will be biased since she's talking through the perspective of how her MD has helped her, so you should also talk to some PhDs in epidemiology (in person) to get some more perspective.

          As an MD, she obtained the necessary technical skills in epidemiology through other means (didn't even get a masters degree). I don't know exactly what she did to pick up on that knowledge, but I'm sure work experienced helped with that. You can also get a book on infectious diseases epidemiology (the same one a class will use) and read that on your own time. You can also regularly keep up with medical journals on infectious disease epidemiology. If you do that on a continuous basis for a long period of time, you would have a much better perspective than someone who just takes one class on infectious disease epidemiology. A PhD is nice since you're staying intellectually engaged with epidemiology in a way that you can't during med school, and even at my school there are some EIS officers who just did a PhD in epi, but the type of work they can do will differ. With an MD, you'll have more flexibility on where you want to work (and more competitiveness when you apply to CDC).

          Though she doesn't do research in academia and may not have the highest level of expertise in epidemiology that a PhD may have, she has the necessary expertise to teach it at our school and be able to apply her knowledge of epidemiology at WHO and CDC even though she only had an MD and no official qualification in public health. She hasn't practiced medicine, but has used her clinical training to help carry out public health programs with regards to epidemiology.

          As others have brought up, med school is expensive, and it is a lot of time, but it will open up more doors. I know it won't be an easy choice for you to make, as is going through med school itself, but you should really do a lot more research--and reflection--on the type of path you want to be on if you make the decision to go to med school since it's pretty long.
           
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