When the University of Louisville (UofL) reopened its school of public health as the School of Public Health and Information Sciences (SPHIS) in 2002, the new name reflected the changing landscape of public health and the ever-growing emphasis on how information about public health is acquired, assessed, acted on and shared. In order to identify emerging health threats and risks, it’s vital for students to understand the knowledge and techniques used today.

Now more than ever, statistics and data analysis help drive decisions that affect our community, from measuring the overall health of the population to determining how certain medical conditions are treated on an individual basis. Earning an online master’s in biostatistics or health data analytics or a graduate-level certificate in biostatistics at UofL prepares students to help make positive changes for the people living in Louisville, the state and the nation. All three programs are offered by the School of Public Health and Information Sciences.

“Data is no longer simple numbers,” explains KB Kulasekera, Ph.D., Professor and Program Director for the SPHIS Department of Bioinformatics and Biostatistics, Chair, Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs. “It used to be a small amount of information, therefore number crunching and making decisions based on that was fairly easy. Now the challenges are enormous, with large amounts of data. That information has to be incorporated into decision-making.”

Statisticians and data analysts not only understand the data, they are able to interpret it for others. It’s not just healthcare systems, insurers and pharmaceutical companies that rely on quantitative data. Government agencies like the National Institutes of Health, the Census Bureau and the Federal Department of Agriculture depend on data to improve public health, understand population characteristics and prevent disease.

From theory to practical application

While each online instructional program deals with analysis and interpretation of healthcare data through innovative tools like machine learning, artificial intelligence and analytics, the difference between the two is how researchers manipulate, structure, and analyze data.

Biostatisticians generally work with clean data sets, looking for answers to specific, targeted questions posed as part of a research project. Data analysts, who are typically responsible for data preparation, take a broader look at the data and often explore connections and new insights not yet identified.

About the programs

Master of Science in Biostatistics

“Our online master’s degree in Biostatistics is a 3-semester, 32-credit hour program, where a student can learn the material that will help them analyze, interpret and make decisions based on information and data,” notes Dr. Kulasekera.

Students receive state-of-the-art training in designing research studies and applying modern statistical analysis to meet the ongoing need for evidence-based innovation in medicine, nursing, public health, commerce and engineering.

Dr. Kulasekera says students enter the program with bachelor’s degrees in a variety of disciplines, including biology, chemistry, economics, engineering, journalism, music and psychology. Regardless of their undergraduate degree, applicants should have some exposure to quantitative background. UofL offers four online Math Tools courses that will satisfy the prerequisite requirements for the biostatistics master’s program.

Graduate Certificate in Biostatistics

Earning the Biostatistics Certificate helps students already working with statistical data to supplement their skills. For those new to the field or those interested in a career change, this program prepares students to apply fundamental methods analysis and management of data across numerous industries.

The 15-to-16 credit hour program sets the stage to move onto the Biostatistics master’s program and all certificate credit hours will transfer over if students decide to continue their studies. “This becomes a stepping stone to your next level,” says Dr. Kulasekera.

He also sees the certificate as a way for recent graduates to stand out in the job market. “If a student is already working on another degree and they need the quantitative background, they could strengthen their statistical skills with the certificate,” he explains. “When they enter the workforce, this allows them to show that they can actually do more than the regular applicant.”

Master of Science in Health Data Analytics

The online Master of Science in Health Data Analytics is a 41-credit hour program that can be completed in two years as a full-time student. Students are also able to follow a four-year path if they want to attend part-time.

The program is designed to show students how they can leverage data, models, analytics methods and tools to solve the challenges facing the healthcare industry. With courses ranging from Data Mining to Public Health in the U.S., students learn how to combine healthcare tools and informatics with patient care and services.

Putting the knowledge to work

Dr. Kulasekera describes the immense satisfaction that comes with finding solutions to complex problems involving a lot of information. Statisticians and data analysts have integral roles in research designed to address problems such as preventing opioid addiction or managing chronic health conditions that communities across the country are facing today.

If you have an aptitude for numbers and want to help improve the health of the people in the community, the online graduate programs in public health at UofL are a step in the right direction. Find out more about UofL’s online public health graduate programs – and enroll today!