Contact Tracer: Job Description, Pay, and How to Become One

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Explore what a contact tracer does, the skills and training needed to become one, salary, and opportunities for contact tracing professionals.

[Featured Image]:  A female contact tracer, wearing a blue vest, a yellow patterned top and a face covering.  She is standing in front of a building with a white wall.

Working as a contact tracer can be a rewarding career for those who enjoy interacting with the public and helping a community eradicate contagious diseases. Contact tracing became a familiar term during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has been around since the 1920s, and opportunities aren’t limited to global viruses. 

Contact tracers are essential to public health as they work during contagious disease outbreaks to identify and notify those who may have been exposed to an infection or virus. If you're interested in pursuing a public-facing health care role, then you might consider a career as a contact tracer.

In this article, you'll learn more about what contact tracing is, what contact tracers do, and earn. At the end, you'll also explore how to become a contact tracer and find suggested cost-effect courses that can help you gain job-relevant skills today.

What is contact tracing? 

The purpose of contact tracing is to identify people who have been exposed to a communicable disease, so those they may have been in close contact with can be notified. Contact tracing helps contain the spread of infectious diseases by quarantining those who are ill and those who may have been exposed to a sick person.

Contact tracers deploy when transmissible diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, hepatitis, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV are found in a community. 

What does a contact tracer do?

In your role as a contact tracer, you’ll reach out to someone with confirmed communicable diseases. You will ask a series of questions to determine where the person recently traveled, who they had contact with and if they had been at any public settings such as schools, work, or large gatherings.

You’ll note anyone the person may have been in close contact with, so those people can be notified and advised on what to do next. You may also be responsible for making follow-up calls to check on patients, provide referrals if needed, and encourage them to practice social distancing. A contact tracer keeps patient records of symptoms, living arrangements, and underlying medical conditions. You may also research social media accounts, GPS data, and other databases to find out where a person has been.

Read more: What Is Population Health? (+ Why It Matters)

Key skills

Most contact tracing positions don’t require a specialized background, but it is helpful to have an interest in public health. Here are some of the core skills you'll need as a contact tracer:

  • Strong communication and persuasion

  • Empathy and good listening skills

  • Persistence

  • Organizational skills

  • Critical thinking

You should be comfortable speaking with a diverse group of patients who may be scared, confused, or aggressive. You’ll also need to be comfortable contacting those who may have been exposed to a communicable disease and ready to answer questions.

Read more: What Is Public Health? Your Career Guide

Salary and career outlook

According to Glassdoor, the average annual base salary for a contact tracer is $37,295 as of February 2023 [1]. You might receive additional pay, such as bonuses or benefits, which could total an average of $39,400 per year. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic slows, the need for contact tracers will likely return to pre-pandemic numbers, which was around 2,200 workers employed by state and local health departments throughout the US.

Where they work

Many contact tracers work for local and state governments. Some private companies are providing contact tracers to government health departments. Many public health departments have applications on their websites, and you can contact them to see if they have any current openings. 

Check with your local temporary employment agencies too. Some public health departments may hire contact tracers temporarily through an agency.

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How to become a contact tracer 

The minimum educational requirement is generally a high school diploma. You can prepare to be a contact tracer in as little as seven hours. John Hopkins University offers a COVID-19 Contact Tracing online course on Coursera to earn a sharable certificate in contact tracing. You can work at your own pace and learn all you need to begin a new career helping others.

The CDC offers online training for contact tracers as well. You can also contact your local health department for any available training courses; some states might also offer training. Some colleges, universities, and private health organizations also offer contact tracer courses. 

Start your career, stop disease spread

As a contact tracer, you’ll be helping your community control the spread of communicable diseases and working in a rewarding career. If you're interested in joining the profession, then you might consider taking a job-relevant, cost-effective course through Coursera. In Penn State's Epidemics - the Dynamics of Infectious Diseases, you'll explore the major themes of infectious disease dynamics, from malaria to infectious fungus.

Article sources

  1. Glassdoor. “Contact Tracer Salaries,,2_IN1_KO3,17.htm." Accessed November 22, 2022.

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