In public health, knowledge is power. The work of public health professionals such as biostatisticians and epidemiologists can have a tremendous impact on individuals and communities. When their efforts are successful, they can help improve the quality of life in a community, provide children with better opportunities to thrive, reduce health issues and save community members money.

The backbone of effective public health strategy is research and analysis. By gathering, analyzing and monitoring data and information, public health officials can identify health issues and develop solutions that potentially lessen their burden on communities. These efforts can range from tracking diseases to being an advocate for laws that keep people safe.

Individuals interested in pursuing a Master of Public Health degree should understand the differences between biostatistics and epidemiology and how these differences shape careers in each field.

What Is Biostatistics?

Biostatistics is a subfield of biology that focuses on gathering, analyzing, interpreting and presenting biologically based scientific data. This information can be used to develop programs, initiatives and other strategies that can lead to programs that encourage healthier living.

The data behind biostatistics can be obtained through health-related information, such as medical records, or vital statistics, such as birth and death dates. Biostatisticians may gather data through sources that provide specific patient information, such as insurance claims; by researching peer-reviewed journals; or by conducting simple surveys.

The Role of Biostatistics in Public Health

In public health, biostatistics can uncover information on a specific health issue, its current effects and its potential impact if it’s not acted on. This information can be used to help build healthier communities.

For instance, biostatistics can do the following:

  • Identify areas or populations that are more susceptible to specific diseases.
  • Pinpoint vulnerabilities in a health care system, such as factors that may prevent people from receiving care.
  • Track the effectiveness of community programs, such as school lunch programs.

Biostatisticians analyze a population segment and apply their findings to a broader population, which makes developing solutions more efficient.

What Is Epidemiology?

Epidemiology focuses on diseases and injuries in populations. Specifically, it is the study and analysis of a disease’s mechanics, causes, risks, frequency and transmission. The goal of epidemiology is to identify patterns in a disease’s cause and spread, and to help come up with strategies that mitigate its impact.

Epidemiology typically involves identifying a disease’s origin, tracking its outbreak, studying its characteristics and then developing mitigation strategies to slow or stop its spread. The process is methodical and takes time, particularly when the disease being studied is unknown. The process can also include the development of short-term strategies to mitigate the disease’s impact pending a long-term solution.

The Role of Epidemiology in Public Health

Epidemiology is often linked to public health and is associated with government agencies and universities. While the primary goal of epidemiology is to keep the public informed and educated about diseases and injuries, the field can be broken down into specific areas of public health.

These areas include:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Chronic diseases
  • Public health preparedness
  • Environmental health
  • Veterinary epidemiology

Biostatistics vs. Epidemiology: Careers and Salaries

While professionals in both fields play a crucial role in public health, individuals considering biostatistics vs. epidemiology careers should closely examine what these professionals do.

What Does a Biostatistician Do?

Biostatisticians design, develop and execute analytical studies on various public health issues or concerns. These studies can take any of a number of forms, such as clinical trials, public health interventions like vaccination rollouts or studies on various health determinants.

While their focus depends on the precise subject being studied, their methodologies typically include:

  • Data gathering
  • Management
  • Analysis
  • Interpretation

The work of biostatisticians can lead to the design and implementation of programs intended to improve public health. In this aspect of the job, biostatisticians can work with health systems management professionals to create programs and policies within specific budgetary parameters.

Employers require biostatisticians to have an advanced degree such as a Master of Public Health, with a terminal degree like a PhD making candidates even more competitive. Biostatisticians must have strong analytical, technological and critical thinking skills to be able to analyze and interpret data. They must also have well-developed communication skills to accurately share their findings with others.

Biostatistician Salary and Job Growth

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies biostatisticians under the mathematicians and statisticians category. The BLS notes that the 2021 median annual salary for those in mathematical science fields was $98,680. Factors that can affect an individual’s salary include their education level, years of experience and job location.

The BLS projects 31 percent job growth in the mathematicians and statisticians field between 2021 and 2031. This percentage is substantially higher than the average 5 percent growth the BLS predicts for all professions.

What Does an Epidemiologist Do?

Epidemiologists coordinate studies on certain diseases, injuries and ailments. Through the collection and analysis of various forms of data, they aim to detect patterns that could provide insight into a health issue’s origins and mechanics, such as how it may be spread. This data can come from sources that range from patient surveys and interviews to samples of body fluids.

Epidemiologists also work with other public health officials to educate them on how to mitigate the effects of diseases. They can write grant proposals to fund research projects as well.

The minimum education requirement for epidemiologists is an advanced degree such as a master’s in public health, although some in the field hold a doctoral degree. An effective epidemiologist needs strong mathematics and statistics skills to recognize patterns in data. They need solid leadership skills, as they may direct staff working with them on projects. They also need to have strong critical thinking skills, be detail oriented and be excellent communicators.

Epidemiologist Salary and Job Growth

The BLS reports that the 2021 median annual salary for epidemiologists was $78,830. Factors like their education level, years of experience and job location can dictate the exact salary an individual epidemiologist may receive.

The BLS predicts 26 percent job growth for epidemiologists between 2021 and 2031. This is significantly more than the average 5 percent growth the BLS projects for all professions.

Make a Key Difference in Public Health

When comparing the two fields, biostatistics vs. epidemiology, it’s clear they both play essential roles in equipping individuals with the knowledge they need to make important decisions about their health. Both biostatisticians and epidemiologists can supply crucial information on an unexpected pandemic or a known concern like cancer or heart disease, and they both can encourage behaviors that can lead to people living healthier, happier lives.

Augusta University Online’s Master of Public Health program can prepare you to help people make these empowering decisions. Our program is designed to help you grow the knowledge and skills you need to recognize health issues and develop programs that allow communities to thrive. Learn how we can help you make a positive impact in an important field.

Recommended Readings
Fact vs Fiction: Augusta University Expert Says Students Need More Education About Social Media Use
MPH Requirements, Curriculum and Career Opportunities
3 Public Health Topics for Research

American Public Health Association, What Is Public Health?
Britannica, Epidemiology
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, About COVID-19 Epidemiology
Indeed, Biostatistics: Definition, Importance and Applications
Indeed, What Does a Biostatistician Do? (Plus Requirements)
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Epidemiologists
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mathematicians and Statisticians

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