An argument for renewed focus on epidemiology for public health.

Journal Article (Review;Journal Article)


Although epidemiology has an indispensable role in serving public health, the relative emphasis of applications of epidemiology often tend toward individual-level medicine over public health in terms of resources and impact.


We make distinctions between public health and medical applications of epidemiology to raise awareness among epidemiologists, many of whom came to the field with public health in mind. We discuss reasons for the overemphasis on medical epidemiology and suggest ways to counteract these incentives.


Public health epidemiology informs interventions that are applied to populations or that confer benefits beyond the individual, whereas medical epidemiology informs interventions that improve the health of treated individuals. Available resources, new biomedical technologies, and existing epidemiologic methods favor medical applications of epidemiology. Focus on public health impact and methods suited to answer public health questions can create better balance and promote population-level improvements in public health.


By deliberately reflecting on research motivations and long-term goals, we hope the distinctions presented here will facilitate critical discussion and a greater consciousness of our potential impact on both individual and population-level health. Renewed intentions towards public health can help epidemiologists navigate potential projects and ultimately contribute to an epidemiology of consequence.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Rogawski, ET; Gray, CL; Poole, C

Published Date

  • October 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 26 / 10

Start / End Page

  • 729 - 733

PubMed ID

  • 27659585

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC5086292

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1873-2585

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1047-2797

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.annepidem.2016.08.008


  • eng