Antimicrobial chemotherapy now spans 80 years and four generations. The healthcare epidemiologist has an important role to play in this field. Efforts focus in three areas: (i) minimizing the transmission of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in healthcare settings (infection control); (ii) optimizing use of currently available antibacterial drugs (antibiotic stewardship); and (iii) recognizing and responding to opportunities for new drug development. For each area, the epidemiologist provides data that address four practical questions—‘What is the problem?’, ‘What should be done?’, ‘Is it being done?’ and ‘Is it working?’. A team approach is crucial to acting on the epidemiological data. Examples are presented to illustrate different roles of the epidemiologist, and tools and measures that have been developed to address some problems of current importance. Monitoring of quality, integrity and security of data remains a major focus. The epidemiologist will continue to have a key role in antimicrobial chemotherapy.