Of the 10 Essential Public Health Services outlined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, four services rely heavily on epidemiologic functions,1 yet there is concern that there are not enough skilled epidemiologists in the public health workforce.2 In its 2004 report, “National Assessment of Epidemiologic Capacity: Findings and Recommendations,” the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) reported an increase in epidemiologists working in state and territorial health departments—from 1,366 epidemiologists in the 2003 report (surveyed in 2001–2002) to 2,580 epidemiologists in the 2004 report (surveyed in 2004). In 2004, only 43% of infectious disease epidemiologists reported academic training in epidemiology.1 Furthermore, 64% of epidemiologists working in state and territorial health departments who responded to a 2001–2002 CSTE survey about their abilities to respond to foodborne disease outbreaks indicated that they did not have the capacity to conduct analytic epidemiologic investigations.3
Staff epidemiologists need formal training in epidemiologic methods. However, working professionals may not have the time or financial resources to enroll full-time in an academic epidemiology program. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine emphasized the importance of offering formal training in public health through alternative pathways such as certificate programs.4
To address the need for applied epidemiology training for working public health professionals, the Certificate in Field Epidemiology program was developed and implemented by the North Carolina Center for Public Health Preparedness (NCCPHP) and the Office of Executive Education within the North Carolina Institute for Public Health (NCIPH), the service and outreach arm of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) School of Public Health (SPH), as well as the UNC SPH Department of Epidemiology. The Certificate in Field Epidemiology is an Internet-based, 12-credit, graduate-level program that can be completed in 16 months and requires no travel to the UNC campus.