How Do You Become a Biostatistician?
March 10, 2021
Biostatisticians don't just identify big medical questions; they answer them. Do research, discovery, and statistical challenges excite you?
We live in an age of data, a time when seemingly everything can be quantified and analyzed. The field of medicine is no exception to this modern trend; on the contrary, it is at the forefront, exploiting the explosion of data to drive research and new treatments.
The demand for experts in biology and statistical analysis—biostatisticians, more succinctly—is on the rise, and will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future.
If medical science and advanced mathematics are in your wheelhouse, now is a good time to consider becoming a biostatistician.
In this article, we'll cover:
- Pros and cons of becoming a biostatistician
- Kinds of biostatistician careers
- Educational commitment to become a biostatistician
- Licensure and accreditation to become a biostatistician
- Resources for becoming a biostatistician
- Typical advancement path for becoming a biostatistician
Pros and cons of becoming a biostatistician
With a career in biostatistics, your job will take you to the crossroads of medicine and math. You’ll conduct statistical analyses and play a major role in improving healthcare and medicine. Like all jobs, it has its pros and cons.
Pros of becoming a biostatistician
- You'll have the opportunity to work in the medical field without interacting with patients… or bodily fluids
- The medical research and clinical trials you conduct will make a difference and could save lives
- Biostatisticians typically have high paying jobs, earning upwards of $100,000 a year.
- You may get the opportunity to design studies that will coincide with your areas of interest. Think "passion projects."
- The job market for statisticians is expected to grow 33 percent through 2026, so a large number of jobs will be available.
- You will work regular hours; there are very few late-night emergencies in biostatistics.
Cons of becoming a biostatistician
- A lot of education is required—you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and you will have to complete graduate study through at least a master's level.
- Because of the amount of education required, the investment required to get started in this field—in terms of both time and money—is substantial.
- Sitting in an office interpreting and analyzing data day in and day out could get old.
- The job requires a focus on detail that may not suit 'big picture' types.
- There are few biostatistics emergencies, but the job is demanding; many biostatisticians regularly work more than 40 hours a week.
Kinds of biostatistician careers
Biostatisticians interpret and analyze medical data and statistics through research studies and clinical trials. With a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in biostatistics, you’ll likely work for a pharmaceutical company or in a healthcare setting, such as a lab or a hospital. Some other potential employment areas include the government or academia. Your analyses and interpretations of data might be used for clinical trials, research studies, or answering pressing medical questions.
Once you earn your degree, you’ll most likely be working in a healthcare field in some capacity, although you will have other options; potential alternate careers for general statisticians include working with engineers or research companies.
On average, statisticians earn $87,780 per year. If numbers, data, and research are what get you up in the morning, you can make a pretty penny doing what you love.
Educational commitment to become a biostatistician
A bachelor’s degree, which typically takes four years, is a bare minimum requirement for biostatisticians. To prepare you for becoming a biostatistician, a degree in health science or a related field is a smart choice.
Most jobs also require a master’s degree or doctorate in biostatistics. A master's degree could take you two or more years to attain, and a doctorate can take another three to six years. You won't have to go to medical school, at least.
Although there are no mandatory ongoing education requirements for biostatisticians, once you become a biostatistician you’ll likely receive ongoing training from your employer. Learning about new research methods and the latest information in the field by taking courses or attending conferences will help you make even more of an impact. Since there are no official requirements, you’ll have the freedom to choose your continuing education opportunities and professional conferences.
In 2019, professional conferences brought biostatisticians to such exotic locales as Basel, Switzerland; Leuven, Belgium: and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Licensure and accreditation for becoming a biostatistician
There is no official regulatory board for biostatistics and no official licensure or accreditations for the profession. You don’t need all the requirements you would from medical school (thank goodness); you will just need to earn your bachelor’s degree, and at least your master’s degree in biostatistics or similar major.
Once you find a school that offers master’s degree programs in biostatistics or PhD degree programs in biostatistics, your school program will help you meet degree requirements.
When going into the medical field, you’ll find that many different companies and healthcare organizations might have specific requirements for their employees, so check with employers in your area to find out if you need to meet any additional employment requirements.
Resources for becoming a biostatistician
If you’re prepared for at least six years of education in biostatistics—undergrad plus, for most jobs, a graduate program—there aren’t too many hurdles to becoming a biostatistician.
That is, unless you tend to struggle with data, statistics, and math, in which case you might struggle to start a career in statistical analysis as a biostatistician. If you are the kind of person who slaps down your credit card and runs to the bathroom to avoid divvying up the check after a large group dinner, this career probably isn’t for you.
There are resources out there to help you as you train and begin working with statistics and data analysis. They include:
_Biostatistics and epidemiology are closely related, so you can also find support and resources from:_
Typical advancement path for biostatisticians
Many biostatisticians who have a bachelor’s degree can find entry-level positions working with clinical trials for hospitals or pharmaceutical companies.
Those with a master’s degree have more options and can obtain more supervisory positions in:
- Clinical trials
- Data analysis
Those with an academic/theoretical bent can pursue a doctorate in biostatistics and may just develop breakthrough statistical methods. Or, they might just train the next generation of biostatisticians, also a worthy endeavor.
If you’re looking for further education in the health or health sciences field that would benefit you and your career, getting a degree from a school of medicine is also an option. You can also look for a program in a related field such as epidemiology.
Before continuing your education, think about what type of research or clinical trials you want to focus your career on so you can find courses that will be the most beneficial for you.
Alicia Betz is a writer and high school English teacher. She earned her bachelor’s in education from Pennsylvania State University and her master’s in education—as well as a certificate in online teaching and learning—from Michigan State University.
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