During a TV story on, say, breast cancer, you’ll often hear from a clinician that one in eight women will develop an invasive form of the disease during her lifetime and risk factors for the disease are family history and age. Biostatistics, what medical experts refer to as “the science of obtaining, analyzing and interpreting data in order to understand and improve human health,” are at the heart of those study conclusions.
The individuals who often play a key role in designing studies and for making sure they adhere to proper medical/scientific guidelines -- biostatisticians -- generally aren’t recognized in popular media for the studies they may have made important contributions to. It’s tough to explain in a 1-minute story just what biostatisticians did, say, for a study now showing a drug has treatment efficacy for 30 % of people with diabetes. A clinician using the new drug with patients is front and center for an interview with a reporter. Biostatisticians remain behind the scenes. To use a sports analogy, they’re best known for helping plan game strategy, rather than playing the game.
According to Dr. Kavita Batra, a new biostatistician at the UNLV School of Medicine, biostatisticians not only can assist in designing studies, they review the data, perform quality assurance to statistical methods and outputs, and help interpret results of analyses to relay meaningful information to inform public health policies. Academic medicine, she notes, is evidence based.
When Batra explains what she can bring to collaborations at the medical school, her scientific voice is evident: “I bring my analytic, problem-solving, and communication skills to the school of medicine. I perform advanced quantitative analysis (modeling, bootstrap, meta-analysis etc.) and have a firm grasp over the survey-based research. With my dental background (Batra is a former dental surgeon), I have a complete understanding of medical terminologies, which I get to apply and integrate with my statistical expertise to various areas across the school of medicine...”
Dr. Deborah Kuhls, the interim assistant dean for research at the medical school, said that in hiring Batra the school found someone who has a skill set for academic medicine that is multidisciplinary -- she can work as a key member of interdisciplinary research teams that include physician-scientists, residents, fellows and medical students. Helping develop funding applications and contributing to proposal and budget development are also key parts of the job.
Batra, a native of India, received her PhD in Public Health from UNLV in May. She focused on maternal and child health, assessing the health and financial burden of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Four years earlier, she earned her Master’s in Public Health at UNLV, writing a master's thesis analyzing the effectiveness of the National Diabetes Prevention Program in reducing weight and promoting physical activity among adult Nevadans.
“Can’t” isn’t a word used much by Batra. Her personal story is a large reason for that.
“Having had polio has made me stronger,” says Batra, who now is matter-of-fact about the disease she contracted at the age of 6 months that paralyzed her lower right side. It took five operations between the age of 2 and 22 for her to walk well on her own. She says as a young girl she fell in love with numbers because she used to count the days she had to remain in a full body cast after an operation.
Often it wasn’t the physical problems that caused her the most distress as a young girl. Schools in India, believing her physical problems would translate into teachers having to spend time with her that didn’t involve academia, wouldn’t admit her. “I was homeschooled by my mother…I missed being in school like other kids,” she recalls.