Veterinary Epidemiologist

Pigs in a pen
Pigs are commonly studied by epidemiologists. Isabelle Rozenbaum/PhotoAlto/Getty Images

Veterinary epidemiologists are specialists that focus on preventing and controlling disease outbreaks in animal populations.

Duties

Veterinary epidemiologists are veterinarians with advanced training in monitoring, controlling, and preventing disease in animal populations. The primary duties of an epidemiologist may include studying disease transmission and patterns of occurrence, monitoring the effectiveness of vaccines, studying patterns of pathogenic drug resistance, evaluating public health concerns connected to animal-based food products, and other research.

Most epidemiologists work regular office hours unless an outbreak of disease requires immediate attention.

Career Options

Epidemiology is one of the many specialties in which veterinarians are able to achieve board certification. The American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine reported 55 epidemiology specialists in 2014 (a relatively small portion of their 687 total members).  Board certification is not required to be considered a veterinary epidemiologist, however, as many veterinarians complete other training programs in the field (such as the FDA’s Epidemiology Training Program).

Veterinary epidemiologists may find jobs with a variety of employers such as research laboratories, academic institutions, and private corporations (like pharmaceutical companies). Government organizations such as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration also employ many epidemiologists to monitor disease transmission in livestock species and to maintain public health.

FDA veterinary epidemiologists work in the Center for Veterinary Medicine, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, and the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Education & Training

Veterinary epidemiologists must begin by achieving their basic doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) degree.

After becoming licensed to practice medicine, a vet can begin to fulfill the requirements that will lead to board certification in the specialty field of epidemiology, provided that they are interested in pursuing this avenue. (Other options outside of board certification include special training programs with government agencies or advanced degrees such as a Masters in Public Health or Ph.D. in Epidemiology).

To be eligible to take the board certification exam, a candidate must first become a diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine (ACVPM). They also must have two years of recent experience in the field of epidemiology, have a published (or publication pending) article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and obtain three professional recommendations. The board certification exam for epidemiology is administered by the (ACVPM). After passing this exam, a candidate is granted diplomate status in the specialty of epidemiology.

Those not pursuing the board certification path may be interested in the FDA’s Epidemiology Training Program. This highly selective program involves a year of graduate study in the field of epidemiology and public health, followed by a two-year residency.

Professional Organizations

The Association for Veterinary Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine (AVEPM) is a professional membership organization for veterinarians and others involved in the field of veterinary epidemiology. The AVEPM distributes educational information and coordinates events for its members that help them maintain their continuing education requirement. Continuing education credits are usually earned by attending lectures and participating in lab activities.

Salary

The most recent information collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicated that the median annual wage for all veterinarians was $87,590 (in May of 2014). The bottom ten percent of all veterinarians earned under $52,530 annually while the top ten percent all veterinarians earned over $157,390 each year.

While the BLS does not provide separate salary numbers for each of the individual veterinary specialties, board certified specialists earn salaries towards the upper end of the scale due to their extensive training and experience.

According to the BLS, the average salary for all epidemiologists was $67,420 in May of 2014. The bottom ten percent earned less than $43,530 while the top ten percent earned more than $112,360. Those employed in research & development highest average salary ($89,360).

Those epidemiologists completing their residencies do earn a salary during their studies, but the compensation is usually much less than they would have earned while working as a veterinarian in private practice. Residency salaries for most programs usually range from $25,000 to $35,000 per year, depending on the specialty and the geographic location’s cost of living.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey results indicate that the veterinary profession as a whole will grow faster than the average for all professions (about 9 percent) from 2014 to 2024.  The BLS also predicts average growth for the general category of all epidemiologists, which should expand at about 6 percent over the same period.

Veterinarians who achieve board certification or other advanced training should continue to enjoy the best prospects in the field of epidemiology.