Job Profile: Biostatistician

Earning an accredited Master of Public Health (MPH) typically requires taking at least one course in biostatistics, but students could be left wondering what this is. Biostatistics is a specialized mathematical branch devoted to analyzing data for medical and pharmaceutical means. Also called biometricians, biostatisticians utilize complex methods to numerically interpret the accurate nature of the nation’s healthcare system. Biostatisticians play active roles in the effective design of clinical trials, population genetics, ecological forecasting, biological sequence analysis, and more. Anytime statements like “12.4 percent of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime” appear, a biostatistician was behind it. Biostatisticians compile the raw, statistically significant numbers to ensure public health officials and the general public are well-informed about community well-being.

Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that America’s 29,870 statisticians earn a mean annual wage of $84,440, or $40.60 per hour. Biostatisticians working in hospitals make $80,450 on average. Those employed in the health insurance sector bring home less with a mean salary of $79,310. Yet top-paying biostatics jobs in federal government and pharmaceutical manufacturing offer average salaries of $100,960 and $94,820 respectively.

Beginning Salary

Biostatisticians finishing their master’s degree will likely enter the healthcare market in the bottom 10th percentile of earnings around $44,900 yearly. However, biostatisticians who’ve obtained significant experience often break the six-figure mark for $130,630 or more. Senior biostatisticians who claim director positions can earn upwards of $201,000. Some advance as Chief Data Officers (CDO) where salaries range from $250,000 to $750,000.

Key Responsibilities

Biomedical research teams rely on biostatisticians to collect, analyze, and form statistical conclusions from their studies. Biostatisticians design reliable methods for determining risk factors of diseases and testing the efficiency of medical treatments. They’ll gather essential data before, during, and after a clinical trial or experiment with mathematical formulas like standard deviation and correlation coefficient. Job responsibilities in biostatistics will include using sampling to collect data, analyzing data validity, accounting for sampling error, designing more efficient software, discussing data limitations, and presenting findings in charts or tables. It’s also important for biostatisticians to continually search for ways to improve future surveys, clinical trials, and experiments to advance public health.

Necessary Skills

Working as a biostatistician clearly will require in-depth mathematical skills to apply statistics along with calculus, algebra, and derivatives. Having an analytical, detail-oriented mind to study vast amounts of data is critical. Biostatisticians need the technical skills to run complex statistical software like SPSS and perhaps program their own models. Creative problem-solving skills will help biostatisticians overcome obstacles to data analysis to ensure accurate conclusions are drawn. Since a biostatistician’s job isn’t independent, they’ll need interpersonal skills to concisely communicate intricate information to their research team. Listening skills are a must since their sophisticated analysis must perfectly meet the study’s needs. Biostatisticians also need logical thinking, organizational, and time management skills.

Degree and Education Requirements

Biostatistics is an advanced discipline necessitating post-baccalaureate training in graduate school. Most biostatisticians begin with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, statistics, economics, or another quantitative field. Others could benefit from studying biology, chemistry, health science, or even computer programming. Then, they’ll generally pursue a CEPH-accredited Master of Public Health degree with a biostatistics major or concentration. Make sure you take courses like survival analysis, linear regression, and ANOVA for good preparation. Some top-notch colleges like Harvard, Brown, and Pittsburgh offer separate M.S. in Biostatistics programs too. Venturing further into a Ph.D. or DrPH program for biostatistics will be required for faculty and research positions in academia.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Although biostatistics is touted as the ideal career for math and biology lovers, entering the field comes with advantages and drawbacks. Let’s start off positive by stating that biostatisticians earn a sizeable salary with great potential for advancement. Biostatisticians can focus on various facets of public health, such as cancer trials, obesity studies, or medical product testing. Technological advancements have made statistical software less cumbersome for efficient work. Biostatisticians don’t travel often because team communications can be conducted via Skype and other teleconferencing applications. It’s an exciting career for number-oriented people who adore complex puzzles and want to positively influence medicine. However, pouring over mountains of data can lead to physical problems like eye strain. Research deadlines may cause biostatisticians to work over 40 hours weekly. Biostatistics projects could be outsourced from pharma to CROs globally. Investing in a master’s or doctoral degree can be a hefty expense costing $30,000 to $150,000 total.

Getting Started

Higher education is essential for building a successful biostatistics career, but that’s not the only prerequisite. Actual experience analyzing with real-world medical data is also important. Internships are available with many leading organizations like the National Cancer Institute, Mayo Clinic, and Bayer. Consider the NIH Undergraduate Scholarship, which comes with $20,000 and a 10-week summer lab experience. After graduation, take advantage of job fairs and LinkedIn to find biostatistics openings. Joining professional networks like the American Statistical Association (ASA) and International Society for Clinical Biostatistics (ISCB) can help. You’ll likely have to begin with entry-level biostatistics and informatics positions before advancing. Promotion can be faster for those who become Certified in Public Health (CPH) through the NBPHE. Maintaining certification requires earning 50 continuing education credits in biostatistics every two years.

Future Outlook

Job growth in biostatistics is booming because statistical analysis is increasingly used to make informed healthcare decisions. Faced with an aging U.S. demographic, the biomedical market needs biostatisticians to develop new drugs, medical equipment, and clinical trials. Conducting research to obtain FDA approval is essential work for pharmaceutical manufacturers. Data analysis and programming skills are highly prized as R&D funds in the life sciences grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment growth of biostatisticians will be much faster-than-average by 34 percent. Approximately 10,100 statistical positions are expected nationwide through 2024. Biostatisticians can apply for openings at biological research firms, universities, general or specialty hospitals, public health departments, government agencies like the CDC, and pharmaceutical corporations.

For 2017, CNN Money recognized biostatistics as the United States’ 48th best career with straight As for satisfaction, low stress, telecommuting, and benefit to society. This fast-growing field allows biostatisticians to address today’s biggest public health issues from a mathematical perspective. Becoming a biostatistician is suggested for qualitative experts seeking to pioneer medical research findings that could help treat cancer, HIV, diabetes, and other diseases.

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