Case study

Epidemiologist — Ross

Ross knew he wanted to take his knowledge of the public health aspect of infectious diseases to the next level and pursued a role in epidemiology

How did you get your job?

After graduating with a degree in biological sciences, I decided to complete a Master of Public Health, which gave me the opportunity to complete a dissertation at Health Protection Scotland. I later secured an epidemiologist position at that same organisation.

In the final year of my undergraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh I knew I wanted to take my knowledge of the public health aspect of infectious diseases further.

I undertook a Masters of Public Health, also at Edinburgh, which is a multi-disciplinary degree that covers epidemiology, statistics, ethics and research methods. I was given the opportunity to undertake my dissertation with Health Protection Scotland (HPS), which introduced me to the workings of the organisation and the health protection network within the NHS.

Once I completed my dissertation, my supervisor notified me of a future epidemiologist posting within HPS, which I later applied for and successfully secured.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

A Masters of Public Health (MPH) or other relevant postgraduate degree is a minimum requirement for applying for an epidemiologist position.

A MPH degree is invaluable in understanding the principles of epidemiology and the broader issues involved in protecting the public's health.

My undergraduate degree gave me a broad knowledge of infectious diseases, microbiological techniques and the current public health issues we face and has been an asset for my job.

However, other degrees in the biological sciences or mathematics will also be relevant.

What are your main work activities?

I work in the childhood viral vaccine team within the vaccine preventable disease group.

One of the main activities is to carry out disease surveillance where the team receives lab reports from laboratories across Scotland to monitor diseases and to identify potential outbreaks.

The writing of regular reports and sometimes papers for publication are long term activities that I undertake.

We also assist health boards during outbreaks and give expert advice for healthcare professionals, politicians and the public on vaccination and the diseases we are responsible for.

What do you enjoy about your job?

There is a good mix of research and practice and I enjoy working as part of a team. Weeks or even days can be highly variable meaning you can spend most of your time responding to urgent emails and requests or attending meetings, for example in an outbreak situation, or you could spend a day writing up a paper for publication or a report on a previous incident which keeps the job interesting.

What are the challenges?

The most challenging part of the job is to respond to highly unpredictable infectious disease outbreaks, while also meeting tight deadlines, which may be numerous.

Highly developed time management skills and the ability to prioritise is a must for this role.

How has your role developed?

I'm new to this role and I look forward to developing my career further which is possible through training courses, attending conferences and further study.

If the opportunity arises I would consider completing a PhD, but only after I have accumulated enough experience.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

When at university take every opportunity to meet people in the role and at the project stage, try and ensure that you undertake a project you are interested in but is also relevant for any future career you want to pursue.

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