Nursing Research in Action: A Look at Key Epidemiology Examples

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Doctor of Nursing Practice

Nurse researchers looking through a microscope

Once determined as being “eliminated” in the U.S. in 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), measles has now spread to 31 states, affecting hundreds of people, according to the latest CDC figures. To stop the spread of the disease, it is important to determine the factors behind its re-emergence. Through the multidisciplinary approach known as epidemiology, public health officials can answer key questions about the origins and spread of outbreaks and diseases that affect public health.
There are many people involved in efforts to contain the spread of an outbreak or epidemic, from health care professionals to government officials. Nurses with a combination of clinical, research, and leadership skills are critical members of infectious disease response teams. They help manage and limit the growth of outbreaks by using evidence-based nursing practices to treat patients, improve the preparedness of groups working with affected populations, and collect and synthesize epidemiological data.
Nurses who enroll in an online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program can obtain essential skills, including knowledge of research and evidence-based practice, to perform on the front lines of outbreak responses.

Epidemiology at a Glance

Epidemiology is the branch of medicine that investigates human populations to determine the causes and dissemination of diseases that impact different groups over a specific time frame. It also aids in developing control methods to contain the spread of disease.

The information gathered in epidemiology studies is integral to forming public information strategies that can potentially mitigate the negative public health effects of the disease in question. This includes the use of public information strategies, where effective communication plays a crucial role. For example, communications from public health officials shared during outbreaks can motivate people to adhere to disease prevention strategies.

The first step to effective messaging, according to the CDC, is to start with empathy, which includes understanding the concerns and perspectives of the at-risk populations. The message should then include an explanation of the threat, offer clarity on what is known and unknown, and provide details on what actions are being taken. It is also important to express a sense of urgency and a commitment to addressing the situation.

Different Types of Epidemiology

Data is critical to the development and dissemination of accurate information about disease response for the public. In looking at epidemiology examples, we can see how different methodologies can be used to extract various types of crucial data that can be applied to health care delivery and public information. Epidemiology examples include classical, clinical, population, sample, and data-focused types.

Classical Epidemiology

In classical epidemiology, researchers investigate the factors behind what causes diseases among key populations and how they are distributed. Through the use of scientific methods, researchers consider other variables that can impact the spread of diseases: human interactions, travel, climate, socioeconomic status of the people affected, and more. In the case of the current measles outbreak, the research links its rise to a number of factors. First, parents who have elected not to have their children vaccinated against measles may unintentionally contribute to the re-emergence of the disease. But there are other factors that have contributed to its spread, such as unvaccinated travelers returning home from countries that have a large number of measles cases.

Clinical Epidemiology

The goal of clinical epidemiology is to prevent, detect, and treat disease in individual patients who are part of a larger group affected by a disease outbreak. A key aim is to formulate valid conclusions through clinical studies, including the use of drugs and placebos. The data generated from these studies enables researchers to discover information that is critical for improved medical decision-making and effective health care delivery to affected populations.

Population Epidemiology and Sample Epidemiology

Population epidemiology enables researchers to investigate and measure outcomes of at-risk groups that share common characteristics. These characteristics may include age, gender, location, or other factors. The groups often consist of many people, making investigations difficult. This is where the sample epidemiology approach comes in.

Let’s say researchers want to measure results for a target population. Researchers may determine that all people between the ages of 18 and 65 from a dozen communities would be ideal candidates for the study. Reaching out to all of those people may not be possible, especially in urgent situations such as outbreaks. So a sample population — a smaller group of people representing the entire population — will be selected for the study.

Data Epidemiology

Data collected during investigations is a basis for analysis and a crucial component in all epidemiology examples discussed in this article. For example, factual information from evidence-based data is critical in classical or field epidemiological efforts to identify causes of public health concerns and develop controls to ensure the public safety and health.

Thanks to advances in the way patient data is collected in hospitals and other health care facilities, epidemiologists have a large variety of data sources to work with. The challenge is in determining which data is relevant for current epidemiological studies. Data epidemiology methods enable researchers to achieve three key goals: determine quickly what existing relevant data is available for analysis, identify what data is missing, and establish processes to enable the fast and efficient collection of data.

Required Skills to Put Epidemiology to Use

Advanced analytical and critical-thinking skills are essential to perform the type of work associated with epidemiology. Epidemiologists may work in a range of settings including offices and laboratories, hospitals, universities, and government health agencies such as the CDC. Investigations sometimes involve working out in the field, interacting with patients and medical professionals, conducting interviews to generate data, and collecting and analyzing samples.

Knowledge of clinical practices, patient care, and evidence-based research methods are also crucial for epidemiology roles. This makes nurse researchers ideal candidates for jobs in epidemiology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in the epidemiology field are projected to grow at a rate of 5% from 2018 to 2028.

The online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Regis College prepares nurses in the use of data to understand different health-related issues and develop programs to help improve health outcomes. The program’s curriculum — in particular the Epidemiology/Biostatistics coursework — provides students with essential skills to gather, interpret, and implement strategies around epidemiology-related data that can help minimize the effects of disease.

In examining factors that promote and inhibit the health of populations, students are also taught epidemiological methods and biostatistics that are applicable to nursing practice, leadership, education, and research. With its strong commitment to social justice and focus on developing nurse leaders, the Regis College online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice degree prepares students to promote lasting change in patients’ lives through advanced, compassionate care.

Learn More

Nurses with research skills and epidemiology knowledge can make an impact by planning and evaluating strategies to prevent the spread of illnesses. Discover how the online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Regis College can provide you with a valuable mix of epidemiology, leadership, clinical, and communications skills to make a difference in an extremely important and promising field.

Recommended Reading

DNP vs. PhD: Prioritize Clinical Nursing or Nursing Research Careers with Your Degree
What Can I Do with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
Career Outlook: How to Become a Nurse Researcher


Amboss, Epidemiology
BMJ, What is Epidemiology?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Collecting Data
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Communicating During an Outbreak or Public Health Investigation
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Measles Cases and Outbreaks
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Importance of EpidemiologyNature, Epidemiology Is a Science of High Importance
NPR, “U.S. Measles Outbreaks Are Driven By A Global Surge In The Virus”
Regis College, Online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice (Nurse Education)
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Epidemiologists
U.S. National Library of Medicine, What Are Epidemiology Studies?
World Health Organization, Epidemiology