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Biostatistics Competencies Maintained in Public Health Accreditation Criteria

1 February 2017 422 views No Comment

When the 2016 draft Council on Education in Public Health Masters of Public Health Accreditation Criteria were released earlier this year, they no longer included specific mention of biostatistical skills among the required competencies. The biostatistics community rallied to make the case for the importance of biostatistics to public health research and practice.

The accreditation criteria in question are from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), an independent agency whose mission is to accredit schools of public health and public health programs. Its two corporate members are the American Public Health Association and Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH).

Upon seeing the draft criteria in the spring, leaders of the biostatistical community—including Lance Waller, Brad Carlin, Kendra Schmid, and Xihong Lin—commented on the drafts through letters and emails to CEPH and ASPPH. In a September 2 letter, 2016 ASA President Jessica Utts and the leaders of the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies, Eastern and Western North American Regions of the International Biometrics Society, Applied Public Health Statistics Section of the American Public Health Association, and Caucus of Biostatistics department chairs wrote the following:

A major aspect of these roles is to collect and interpret public health data. Rigorous interpretation requires statistical reasoning … With the explosion in complexity and volume of data available to public health practitioners—electronic health records, wearable health sensors, crowdsourcing, and detailed geospatial information are only a few examples—the need for statistical reasoning is greater than ever before.

Waller, in an email following up the afore-mentioned letter shared his personal perspective, distinguishing training in epidemiology from training in biostatistics, and noting both are necessary in public health:

During my 25+ years of collaborating closely with epidemiologists, I am frequently and consistently reminded that epidemiologists are not applied biostatisticians nor are biostatisticians applied epidemiologists. The two disciplines are certainly interdependent, but not identical, and I think this appreciation of the grey between requires some understanding of both perspectives. Critical concepts like confounding and effect modification are essential to epidemiology, but very difficult to reduce to biostatistical formulae. Similarly, interpreting confidence intervals within epidemiology requires a solid understanding of biostatistical definitions and how and when these enable epidemiologic interpretations (or not).

Also contributing to the effort, Leslie McClure wrote the following in a September 16 blog entry titled, “Biostatistics IS Public Health”:

Despite biostatistics’ differences from other public health disciplines, biostatistics is an integral part of the field. Biostatisticians are trained to help translate data into answers, through the appropriate application of statistical methods. But biostatisticians can (and do) do much more than that. Biostatisticians can help determine appropriate data collection instruments, ensure appropriate data collection methods, and assess whether outcomes are suitable for answering the questions of interest.

In the final accreditation criteria for a master’s in public health, biostatistics is now included in the third of 22 competencies (under the category Evidence-Based Approaches to Public Health): “Analyze quantitative and qualitative data using biostatistics, informatics, computer-based programming and software, as appropriate.” Biostatistics is also listed in the lead-in paragraph to the competencies list:

These competencies are informed by the traditional public health core knowledge areas, (biostatistics, epidemiology, social and behavioral sciences, health services administration, and environmental health sciences), as well as cross-cutting and emerging public health areas.

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