Biostatistics Degrees in Public Health

Biostatistics is an integral part of public health and medicine. Those working in the field will analyze the data and information collected, process it and interpret the meaning of the results for others.

The majority of individuals working as biostatisticians will have a master's or doctorate degree, but some may hold a bachelor's in biostatistics, mathematics or statistics.

Bachelor's Degree in Biostatistics

A solid foundation in mathematics is highly recommended for those seeking a bachelor of science (BS) in biostatistics. Prerequisite classes may include courses in math and biology and possibly ecology, epidemiology, chemistry or other science courses. Classes that focus on statistical packages, such as SPSS or EpiInfo, could be considered helpful as well.. It is also recommended to take courses that will improve communication skills. Programs held within schools of public health will also require a certain number of public health classes. 

A bachelor of science in biostatistics may not be available to everyone. A BS in statistics or mathematics are good substitutions for those interested in biostatistics. Electives may help students gain a better understanding of biostatistics and its integral relationship to public health.

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Master's Degree in Biostatistics

Many schools and programs of public health will offer biostatistics as an MPH concentration option. These programs will train students in statistical theory, bioinformatics and biostatistical methods, planning studies, conducting analysis, interpretation of analysis and writing reports. Knowledge of a programming language, calculus, and a statistical computing software could be some requirements for entry into a masters of biostatistics program. Courses in probability, numerical analysis, biology, genetics and/or bioinformatics are suggested.

Courses for the MPH in biostatistics will focus on statistical theories while applying these methods to public health. Some class examples are:

  • Statistical Reasoning in Public Health
  • Biostatistics in Medical Product Regulation
  • Advanced Statistical Theory
  • Methods in Biostatistics II

At the end of an MPH in biostatistics, a capstone course and practicum are also required. The capstone consists of a paper and presentation that shows the students skills and competencies as they relate to a current public health problem. The practicum is a hands-on practical experience, allowing students to share their skills and competencies with other public health professionals. 

Research is a key component of biostatistics and many departments of biostatistics encourage their students to work or volunteer for a research project during their biostatistics degree. This allows the student to gain valuable first-hand experience that may aid in later career development.

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Doctorate Degrees in Biostatistics

Doctoral programs offering a Ph.D. in biostatistics are aimed at individuals who are focused on scholarly research. Students in these programs may work on developing new biostatistical methodologies, publishing original research, analyzing complex medical and public health data including non-standard problems and collaboration with research scientists in other related disciplines. Some Ph.D. programs in biostatistics may require individuals to teach, conduct independent research or both. 

The prerequisites for a Ph.D. program are often met by having a master's in public health with a concentration in biostatistics. Master's level education in statistics, mathematics, or other related topics may also fulfill prerequisites.

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Biostatistics Careers and Industries

Careers in biostatistics may be found in pharmaceutical companies, academia, hospitals, independent research groups, medical device manufacturers, public health organizations and the government. The majority of positions available require a master's level degree, but those with a bachelor's degree and proficient knowledge of a statistical analysis software may be able to find work in clinical trials and research. Those interested in teaching or developing new biostatistical methods will need a doctorate degree. Other career options may be available to individuals with a master's degree.

Some industries hiring biostatisticians are the federal government and the private sector . Positions within local and state government are hiring the least and also have the lowest average salaries. The average median salary for a biostatisticians is about $80,000, with 4,000projected job openings from 2016-2026.

Biostatistics Associations to Know

The American Statistical Association (ASA) is the world's largest community of statisticians. The ASA provides development, application and circulation of statistical science best practices. The key activities of the ASA are meetings, publications and education. Membership includes a statistical magazine subscription, networking opportunities, career opportunities, and online access to journals.

The mission of the International Statistical Institute (ISI) is to promote the understanding, development and good practice of statistics worldwide. Rooted in history, ISI was founded in 1885 and has been working since to promote leadership and to face the needs of the statistical community. Membership can either be through an organization or on and individual basis.

Why Work in Biostatistics?

Individuals who choose to work as biostatisticians may hold an essential role in the design of research studies and analyzing the data collected. They may be experts in mathematics, critical thinking, reading comprehension and complex problem solving. A biostatistician could be naturally investigative, constantly thinking of how to best solve problems and searching for facts. While the topics researched by biostatisticians are limitless (drug testing, cancer studies, clinical best practices, sinus infections, lung disease, etc.) the work style is not. Biostatisticians may follow set procedures and routines, adhering to best practices for solving problems. 

A career as a biostatistician can be considered best for those who enjoy working with numbers, are detailed, and are skilled at processing data. While interpersonal interaction can be important, the importance of being exact and detailed when processing data can be far more utilized skills.