The disciplines of epidemiology and biostatistics are essential to achieving the goals of public health. Biostatistics and epidemiology are extremely closely related. Both fields consider population health concerns, and both fields have the ultimate goal of promoting overall health and disease prevention in a specific community. In this post, we will look into careers in epidemiology and biostatistics in detail.
Careers in Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Co-authored by Pavan Somwanshi
- Where do illnesses come from?
- Why do some people get sick, while others remain well?
- Which diseases are most prevalent in a given city, state, or community, or among a particular population group?
Each of these questions is critical in the public health field, in which professionals seek to promote entire populations’ overall physical health and well-being. To help answer these questions, and ultimately to advance better health outcomes, public health experts rely on the scientific disciplines of epidemiology and biostatistics.
These disciplines, while overlapping in several ways, are distinct from each other. This article will consider the similarities and differences in epidemiology vs. biostatistics, as well as the roles that both disciplines play in promoting public health, job prospects, and salaries.
Epidemiology and Biostatistics in Public Health
One of the most important jobs out there is that of public health professionals. They are responsible for the maintenance of the health of communities and ensuring their safety. Public health professionals constantly work on preventing disease outbreaks. Promoting a healthy lifestyle, educating people on how they can take care of themselves are some aspects of the job. In essence, public health professionals improve our quality of life.
What are Epidemiology and Biostatistics?
What is Epidemiology?
- Epidemiology is the cornerstone of public health. Epidemiologists analyze trends, study patterns origin of diseases and injuries. Epidemiologists are often called “Disease Detectives” as they identify the cause of diseases and people at risk and help control the spread.
- These professionals often make use of statistical models to arrive at the source of a public health problem. Through surveys, interviews, and often some observations Epidemiologists gather and analyze data to determine the cause of certain health issues.
- Testing of samples such as blood is also an important part of the practice. The discoveries after the practice are later communicated to health practitioners and the public.
What does an Epidemiologist do?
Epidemiologists tend to focus on two areas: distribution and determination.
- Distribution refers to the frequency of a particular disease or health outcome and to any patterns or trends that may be identified
- Determination is more concerned with cause and effect: What are the risk factors associated with a disease? What are its underlying causes?
Epidemiologists focus narrowly on a particular population — whether it be a nation, a state, a city, or even a small neighborhood.
Additionally, epidemiologists study any and all events that pertain to population health. In other words, epidemiologists study not just diseases but also any external factors that cause people to become sick, injured, or impaired.
Scopes of Epidemiology
Epidemiologists may study any environmental exposures that contribute to population sickness or wellness. For example, what’s the local air quality? Are there potent allergens or asthma triggers? Does the local water supply contain any harmful substances?
Epidemiology concerns itself with infectious diseases, as well, which may include anything from foodborne illness to seasonal flu. Historically, epidemiology has played a vital role in developing a clear understanding of pandemics such as typhoid and cholera.
Today we are battling to control the spread of COVID-19, which has the potential to cause the most deadly pandemic in human history. Currently, mathematical epidemiology is playing a crucial role in the fight against large-scale infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
With basic mathematical models, researchers can begin to forecast the progression of diseases and understand the effect of interventions on disease spread. With more complex models, we can start to answer questions about how to efficiently allocate limited resources or tease out the consequences of public health interventions, like closing pubs and banning gatherings.
Noninfectious diseases can include a local risk for a particular type of cancer or a high rate of diabetes in a particular community. Epidemiologists may study the potential factors that contribute to these conditions.
Epidemiology also includes the study of injuries, such as local rates of gun violence or homicide. Researchers consider factors that make these injuries more likely and also explore their impact on the community’s physical and emotional well-being.
A natural disaster’s short- and long-term effects may warrant epidemiological study. Natural disasters can be anything from hurricanes to wildfires to earthquakes.
Acts of Terror
A final category for the epidemiological study is terrorism. According to the CDC, professionals in the epidemiology field may study the effects of incidents like the World Trade Center attacks or biochemical weapons deployment.
What is Biostatistics?
- Biostatistics is the application of statistical techniques to make sense of data, answer research questions in medicine, biology, and public health. Determining the efficacy of a new drug and estimating the life span of diseased individuals are some uses of Biostatistics.
- Biostatistics professionals study samples that are collected from a part of a population that represents the entire population of specific interest. Analyzing these samples can provide good estimates of the population under study.
- Biostatistics is a fascinating multidisciplinary field encompassing subject knowledge of biomedical science, statistics & mathematics.
What does a Biostatistician do?
Biostatisticians may study diseases, disorders, and health risks associated with certain behaviors or health risks associated with the local environment.
Biostatistics Methods and Procedures
Biostatistics is considered one of the foundational disciplines in public health. Specifically, biostatisticians conduct quantitative and qualitative research to help identify population health trends and risk factors. This work may involve several methodologies, including the following:
- Clinical trials
- Focus groups
- Case studies
- Field observation
- Laboratory experiments
Through these and other methodologies, biostatisticians gather and analyze data, which may lead them to statistically significant conclusions about how different diseases originate or spread. These findings often provide clues as to how these diseases may be controlled, prevented, or eradicated.
Biostatistics in Action
For examples of what biostatistics may look like in practice, consider the following:
- Some statistical researchers may focus on a particular population, such as infants or older adults, and study conditions that seem especially popular among the demographic in question.
- Others in the biostatistics field may look at a specific health concern, like obesity or diabetes, using statistical trends to identify possible causes or risk factors.
- Biostatistics can also encompass the study of environmental factors or the effects of a particular therapy or clinical intervention on patient outcomes.
How Findings Are Presented
The results of biostatistical studies may be shared with other researchers in the epidemiology field or even be made available to the general public. Typically, this information is presented in one of the following ways:
- Research papers
- Journal articles
- Conference presentations
- Published books
Scopes of Biostatistics
Biostatistics has been used throughout history to improve public health outcomes. Here we consider several case studies.
Biostatisticians have played a long-standing role in oncology, designing experiments to better understand how and why cancers form and how they may be effectively treated.
Biostatistical research in oncology includes a wide range of clinical trials, focusing on patient populations of different sizes and at different stages of treatment.
Through these trials, researchers have developed a greater understanding of genetic markers that make a person more or less at risk for different kinds of cancer.
Environmental Factors in Public Health
Public health professionals who work in biostatistics have conducted important investigations on how air pollution, water contamination, and other environmental factors may impact a local population’s well-being.
Through surveys, clinical trials, and field observation, biostatisticians have made important discoveries about how toxic substances and hazardous waste may impact different populations, identify links between local infrastructure and population health, and even determine the effects of climate change on different communities.
A significant subdiscipline of biostatistics is statistical genetics. Researchers in statistical genetics use different statistical methods to draw conclusions based on genetic data. Statistical genetics provides insight into how different genes:
- Affect particular diseases or health conditions
- Impact a “normal” phenotype
- Have evolved and adapted, specifically within particular demographics
The inferences can help clinicians identify patients who may be at a higher risk for certain conditions, making preventive treatment a possibility.
Human Growth and Development
Biostatistical research has also provided benchmarks and reference points for normal human growth and development. By surveying growth trends across broad sample sizes, researchers have developed a better understanding of how children and adolescents grow, which factors support healthy growth, and which factors may stunt it.
Bioinformatics and Data Science
There is much interest in data science from the biology and medical science community these days. The researchers from these fields are generating massive amounts of data and naturally, as any field that has access to large data sets, people are interested in what “data science” can offer.
The hope is that data scientists will process and filter these large data sets and produce meaningful biological/medical insights by application of statistics and machine-learning models. Hence, biostatisticians have a key role to play in bioinformatics and biological data science.
Career Paths in Epidemiology and Biostatistics
How to Make a Career in Epidemiology?
To become an epidemiologist one needs at least a master’s degree from a college or university. It is possible for Epidemiologists to earn a degree in various specializations, while a master’s degree with an emphasis in epidemiology is what most students choose to go with.
A considerable amount of master’s degree programs in public health and other epidemiology-specific programs require students to complete an internship, the duration of which can vary between a semester and a year. Epidemiologists responsible to oversee research projects and who choose to teach in universities often have a Ph.D. in their field of interest.
Epidemiologists with good communication skills, analytical and critical thinking skills, and good teaching skills along with being detail-oriented are likely to have a great career ahead of them.
How to Make a Career in Biostatistics?
To begin with, Biostatisticians need to earn a bachelor’s degree in biostatistics, math, or statistics. Taking extra biology and medicine-focused classes can help you in further study. Biostatisticians with a bachelor’s degree can occupy entry-level positions.
Most individuals don’t stop here but move on to get a masters and a doctorate, after which they become specialized and gain more experience in research.
Master of Science in Epidemiology, Master of Public Health, and the Master of Science in Public Healthcare are the most common masters programs. A doctorate can help you get to research, academic, and executive positions at various organizations.
Curriculum and Courses in Epidemiology and Biostatistics
- Epidemiology courses involve classes in public health, biological and physical sciences, and math and statistics. Research training is heavily emphasized in Masters Programs.
- Additionally, the coursework focuses on areas of biochemistry, biostatistics, immunology, infectious and chronic diseases, physiology, public health policy, health administration, and environmental health.
- After completion of the programs students become well versed in all areas of the field including the core methodologies and subject areas of the practice.
- The first year (or initial phase) of Biostatistics most likely wouldn’t be very different from that of Epidemiology as they both focus on the understanding of the Public health landscape. Research Methods and Applications, Foundations of Public Health are concepts that overlap in both.
- Linear Regression Analysis, Principles of Biostatistical Consulting, Quantitative Methods, and Biostatistics: Regression are a few topics from the Biostatistics curriculum that can help you understand it a bit better.
Top Universities for Epidemiology and Biostatistics
- Harvard University
- Johns Hopkins University
- University of Michigan
- Columbia University
- UC Berkeley
- UNC-Chapel Hill
- Emory University
- University of Washington
- Tulane University
- University of Cambridge
- Imperial College London
- University of Oxford
- University of Bristol
- University of Liverpool
- University of Glasgow
- King’s College London
- University of Leeds
- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
- University of Edinburgh
- University of Southampton
- McGill University
- University of British Columbia
- University of Toronto
- Western University
- McMaster University
- University of Alberta
- Queens University
- University of Lethbridge
- Dalhousie University
- University of Calgary
- Memorial University
Epidemiology vs Biostatistics
The primary focus of epidemiology is the cause and distribution of diseases along with medical conditions. The main course work is based on research methods and the application of epidemiology. While epidemiology deals with public health biostatistics are more focused on statistical analysis.
Epidemiologists study the distribution and determinants of health and disease in populations. Biostatisticians develop and apply statistical theory, methods, and techniques to public health research data and the planning, implementation, and evaluation of public health programs.
Key Differences between Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Biostatistics may be understood as one of the tools that epidemiology employs; that is, an epidemiologist may use biostatistics principles to help process data and to make helpful inferences.
Despite their overlaps, epidemiology and biostatistics differ in several important ways:
- Epidemiologists typically focus on pathogens and epidemics; they are concerned with specific health-related events. Biostaticians, however, focus on broader biological issues, such as those related to genetics.
- Epidemiologists will usually specialize in the cause of diseases and the different factors that contribute to population health problems. Meanwhile, biostatisticians typically specialize in the effects of health issues, for example, the implications of genetics, the environment or biological factors.
- Epidemiologists can be involved in community outreach programs, which require strong teaching skills. This type of public education effort isn’t usually part of the biostatistician’s job description.
- Biostatistician roles, even more so than those of epidemiologist roles, typically require strong computer skills and project management competencies.
Given the strong overlap, epidemiologists and biostatisticians often collaborate to work toward the shared goal of generating and analyzing data to advance the public’s health.
Both the degrees are important components of the healthcare ecosystem with the help of data, professionals in both the feels died medical and public health policies. Students who look forward to gaining the foundation of both medical and technical aspects of an join a combined degree program.
Jobs & Salaries in India and Abroad
Job Sectors and Typical Job Roles for Epidemiology and Biostatistics Graduates:
You can choose to work in colleges and universities as a professor or any other related role. You also have the option to become a research scholar, after which you will be working with organizations that are involved in analyzing various data.
The main part of your job as a survey researcher will be collecting and analyzing data on various ongoing research and presenting the results accordingly. This data will be provided to you by the government and public organizations.
The job of a Pharmaceutical Epidemiologist is to study the cause and spread of substances and their effects on society. They can even map patterns and make predictions about the spread of disease-causing viruses.
This profession is not as well-known as the others, here the epidemiologist is in a manager position wherein he has to manage other epidemiologists working in an organization.
With this job title, you will be working in institutes and universities as a professor.
Within biostatistics there are many roles apart from research, managing is one of them. As a manager, you will be responsible for moderation and seamless operation of work by fellow biostatisticians.
Director of Biostatistics
This is a high-level position and possibly the topmost position in the field of biostatistics.
The salary for Epidemiologists and related profiles in India ranges from 2L-10L per annum. The average salary for the same abroad is $80,450 on average and can go above $100,000 in some cases.
The salary for professionals in biostatistics in India ranges from 2L-20L and the average salary abroad is $69,000 to $99,000 and those with more than ten years of experience usually earn as much as $117,000 per annum.
About Pavan Somwanshi:
Pavan Somwanshi is an India-based freelance content writer and a curious human being trying to learn things every day to make a better sense of the world. Currently, Pavan is studying BSc Statistics from Pune University.
Additionally, Pavan is a management and entrepreneurship aspirant, a tech geek, an occasional philosopher, and a multitasker who excels at juggling tasks on both a professional and personal level.
He follows the liberal and egalitarian schools of thought, respects ideas, and encourages rational debates along with actively engaging in critical thinking. He finds his fulfillment with work, studies, communicating ideas, and being around people he cares about. You can connect with Pavan on LinkedIn.