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Training for Careers in Biostatistics

What type of work does a biostatistician perform?

A biostatistician is a degreed statistician with additional education in the biological sciences which provides an understanding of the special needs in the science of healthcare. As medical research initiatives, healthcare services, and pharmaceutical industries have continued to expand, the need for biostatisticians has increased. Increasingly, computer software and statistical methods are being used to evaluate all types of healthcare data, to design and analyze clinical study data, and to evaluate the effectiveness of new pharmaceutical products.


Traditional and new biostatistical methods are used to identify the effectiveness and safety of stem cell transplants. With the continual creation of new methods for evaluating and interpreting data, you need to be able to approach project analysis in a creative, but logical and analytical, manner. It is important to note that, as a biostatistician, you will need to be able to work as a member of a research team because you will frequently be asked to work with a wide variety of professionals in technical, clinical, marketing, developmental design, and executive departments. Oftentimes, professional clinical researchers do not understand the complexities of sound statistical analysis and, as a biostatistician, it might be frustrating to assist in the re-organization of data that was collected incorrectly. This can add to the multi-dimensional nature of the job, but it does require exceptional written and verbal communication skills using both technical and business terminology. Finally, it is common for an experienced biostatistician to be asked to meet demanding deadlines with very little supervision. In spite of the demands, however, this career path can provide endless rewards as you turn raw data into statistics that can be utilized to solve a wide variety of healthcare questions.

What degrees are needed to become a biostatistician?

Most biostatistics jobs begin with a general degree in statistics. Some training programs through colleges and universities offer an undergraduate biostatistics track for students who are interested in applying their knowledge and skills to the biological sciences. As the need to apply statistical methods in the health sciences has grown, specialized advanced degree programs in biostatistics have become more prevalent in a field that is still relatively new. If you already have an undergraduate degree in statistics, mathematics, engineering, or computer science, you will be well-prepared for a graduate degree in biostatistics. All graduate programs require you to have a good foundation in mathematics.

Some universities offer Master of Science (MS) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees in biostatistics. At this level, your curriculum will include courses on probability, advanced mathematical statistics, experimental treatment design, survival data analysis, and statistical analysis software. An MS degree would require a minimum of 30-36 hours of course work, depending on the program at your chosen graduate school. A PhD will require 4-6 semesters plus 2-4 additional semesters to complete your dissertation. These higher degrees will provide course work that is rich in research design, methods, and theory. If you are interested in working in public health organizations or universities, an advanced degree would be required.

Where do biostatisticians work?

Jobs in biostatistics can be found in universities, governmental and private research institutions, pharmaceuticals firms, insurance companies, and many healthcare delivery organizations. The complex drug-approval process requires the professional assistance of a biostatistician at every step of the application process, including clinical trials, the fulfillment of approval requirements, and the post-marketing analysis. The evaluation of drug safety and efficacy data help doctors and other healthcare providers to decide which pharmacologic treatment is best for their patients. Biostatisticians develop statistical models for cure rates and survival rates of specific diseases according to individual chemotherapeutic and surgical treatments. This allows clinicians to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of potential modes of treatment. Biostatisticians play an important role in the development of experimental treatments. They also apply statistics to public health research work and interpret healthcare data in endless ways.

What type of salary can a biostatistician expect to earn?

Salaries can vary dramatically based on the employees experience level, the type of employer and the size of the organization. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that "median annual wages for statisticians were $69,900 in May 2007" and further reports a range of $38,140 to over $112.880. A brief informal survey of current job openings shows a salary range of $59,000 to $75,000 to start, reaching $132,000 to $150,000 for those with many years of experience and management responsibilities. Employee benefits are usually very good because many statistical positions are in large well-developed professional, governmental, or private organizations.

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