What is Biostatistics?

Biostatistics, sometimes known as biometry or biometrics, is the application of statistics to biology, and is a crucial area of public health in the design and execution of experiments. Studying biostatistics prepares you for designing biological experiments and clinical trials. Collecting, summarizing, and analyzing data from those experiments, as well as well as interpreting and inferring from the results, are important skills for public health professionals to assess and address the needs of a population.

Biostatistics can be used for health services research, environmental health, healthcare policy and management, critical trials in medicine, studying population genetics, genetic sequencing, systems biology, and other areas of public health that are strengthened by data and statistics.


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The Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) defines biostatistics as “the development and application of statistical reasoning and methods in addressing, analyzing and solving problems in public health; health care; and biomedical, clinical and population-based research.” To demonstrate competency in the discipline of biostatistics, ASPH says that upon graduating, an MPH student must be able to:

  • “Describe the roles biostatistics serves in the discipline of public health.”
  • “Describe basic concepts of probability, random variation and commonly used statistical probability distributions.”
  • “Describe preferred methodological alternatives to commonly used statistical methods when assumptions are not met.”
  • “Distinguish among the different measurement scales and the implications for selection of statistical methods to be used based on these distinctions.”
  • “Apply descriptive techniques commonly used to summarize public health data.”
  • “Apply common statistical methods for inference.”
  • “Apply descriptive and inferential methodologies according to the type of study design for answering a particular research question.”
  • “Apply basic informatics techniques with vital statistics and public health records in the description of public health characteristics and in public health research and evaluation.”
  • “Interpret results of statistical analyses found in public health studies.”
  • “Develop written and oral presentations based on statistical analyses for both public health professionals and educated lay audiences.”

Public health students who concentrate or specialize in biostatistics are prepared for a number of jobs in various capacities. Many organizations in the public health sector need biostatisticians to interpret or collect data and conduct research. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, the need for statisticians (including biostatisticians) is expected to rise by 14% from 2010 through 2020. Pharmaceutical companies, cancer research societies, HIV/AIDS studies, policy analysis, health-risk analysis, insurance, and environmental health services are but a few of the areas you can pursue with a background in biostatistics. For more specific information on careers, visit our Public Health Jobs page.