The need for evidence-based public health and the associated volume of increasingly complex health data, have resulted in a growing demand for high-level biostatistical skills within the public health workforce. In recognition of this need, the NSW Department of Health established a three year Biostatistical Officer Training Program in 2000 within the Centre for Epidemiology and Research.
The Program offers a career path for biostatisticians working in public health by bridging the gap between academic studies and development as a consulting biostatistician. The Program also aims to increase the biostatistical capacity of the NSW health system.
Trainee Biostatistical Officers are supported financially to undertake the BCA Master of Biostatistics degree through the University of Sydney part-time (through distance learning). The Trainees are employed on a Health Officer’s salary by NSW Department of Health to work full-time in six six-monthly placements where they apply the biostatistical theory from their coursework. Placements are offered in public health research units throughout the greater Sydney metropolitan area.
Since the first 2 Trainees started in 2001, the program has increased the pool of highly skilled biostatisticians in Australia and helped to broaden recognition of the vital underpinning role of biostatistics to health science within the sector.
Entry to the Program is competitive and standards are high.
Upon graduation, the Biostatistical Officers have completed the necessary requirements for the Master of Biostatistics degree and have gained three years’ working experience as a Biostatistician. They have received a broad training that will enable them to apply their biostatistical expertise to many different spheres of public health practice. Graduates are capable of working as Senior Biostatisticians in a range of public health services, research, development, policy and planning positions.
A set of competency standards have been developed for the Program to guide the development of appropriate projects for placements as well as to assist Biostatistical Officers and their supervisors to monitor progress towards the development of knowledge and skills in five specific learning areas:
- Study design and advice;
- Data management and analysis;
- Professional practice;
- Communication; and
The competency standards for the Program also prescribe assessment items as evidence of achievement of competence in each of the five learning areas. A portfolio of this evidence is compiled by Trainees at the end of the third year drawing on material from projects undertaken over the three years of the Program and this satisfies the requirements for the 2-unit Workplace Project Portfolio of the Masters degree. This portfolio is examined jointly by the Department and the University of Sydney and is necessary for the completion of both the Master of Biostatistics degree and the NSW Biostatistical OfficerTraining Program.
Here are some examples of recent projects conducted by Trainee Biostatistical Officers:
- Using linked data to examine patterns of injury in Aboriginal people in New South Wales
- Air Quality and Respiratory Health Study (AQRHS) - Lane Cove Tunnel Health Investigation
- Australian Children’s Health and Air Pollution Study (ACHAPS)
- Quality of life in men with prostate cancer
- Annual Cancer Incidence and Mortality Report 2007
- Physical activity across Australia - which city is the most physically active and why?
- Pedestrian Injuries amongst the elderly
- Differences in stroke outcomes between rural and metropolitan areas in NSW
- The relationship between socioeconomic status and notifiable diseases in NSW
- Development of methods to detect gastroenteritis clusters.
- Enhanced reporting of Aboriginality in Administrative Health Data using record linkage: a feasibility study
- Relationship between unflued gas heaters and indoor air quality in NSW Schools
- Descriptive study of surgical procedures in NSW and projection of surgical procedure demand
- Using linked data to examine end-stage renal disease in Aboriginal people in New South Wales