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Epidemiologists are not skin specialists

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 01 November 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0411415
  1. Dharam J Kumbhani, research fellow1
  1. 1Harvard Medical School, USA

Dharam J Kumbhani explains how studying epidemiology has influenced his clinical practice

What does a formal training in epidemiology entail? I came to the Harvard School of Public Health to do my masters degree in clinical epidemiology right after medical school. Many people found this appalling, mainly because I was expected to follow the general trend of completing medical school and getting a good house job--like most medical students. A disbelieving aunt thought that it meant that I was going to become a skin specialist.

Epidemiology programmes, at least in the United States, are mainly offered by schools of public health. Most schools require students to have taken the graduate record examination and the test of English as a foreign language, if applicable. The courses are usually a blend of epidemiology and biostatistics (box 1). You gradually begin to understand how all the numbers and ubiquitous P values in the BMJ find their way there. As part of a clinical research team, you may never be called upon to do these analyses yourself. But it helps to have a working knowledge of things.

Box 1: Core courses

  • Epidemiology:Introduction and basics of epidemiology

  • Design and analysis of case-control and cohort studies

  • Basics and methods of clinical research

  • Biostatistics:Introduction and principles of biostatistics

  • Applying biostatistical principles to clinical research (eg, regression methods, survival analysis, meta-analysis)

  • Applications and use of biostatistical software packages (SAS, STATA, SPSS, EpiInfo)

Substantive courses (area of interest)

  • Cardiovascular epidemiology

  • Cancer epidemiology

  • Molecular or genetic epidemiology

  • Nutritional epidemiology

  • Infectious disease epidemiology

  • Environmental or occupational epidemiology

  • Pharmacoepidemiology

  • Reproductive epidemiology

  • Psychiatric epidemiology

  • Others (dental epidemiology, etc)

Other public health related courses (optional, if interested)

  • Health policy and management

  • Health finance and economics

  • International health

  • Environmental health

  • Health ethics and human rights

  • Maternal and child health …

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