Quantified Self Public Health Symposium | Susannah Fox

Interesting discussion in the comments section of this post about the need for physicians who have a deep understanding of data.

Dr Bryan Vartabedian (of 33 charts fame) writes:

Just like we need physician scientists and physician creatives, we need physician data scientists. I suspect these are unicorns…

As usual, Dr V’s analysis is spot on. We do need physicians who understand data and they do seem to be quite rare.

However, I object to adding more tech/media jargon to the discussion. [1] What we need are physician-biostatisticians.

These are people with a MD and a PhD in biostatistics. The field and programs to go into the field already exist at schools of public health around the country. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be very popular. Most MD-PhDs seem to pursue basic science fields like molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, physics, etc and we need them in those fields to advance the science of medicine. But, with more and more large data sets being created through the spread of electronic medical records, we are going to need some really good physician-biostatisticians.

I briefly considered this path. Ultimately, I decided it was too long of a road when I was already starting my medical career a little late. It is a very difficult path. Of the 5 MD-PhD candidates in my original med school class, one dropped out of the PhD program and another one is unhappy with their PhD work. We need some strong, smart people (and there are many in medical schools around the country) to take up this yoke.


  1. I don’t know what a ‘data scientist’ is. I know what a statistician and biostatistician are.  ↩

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