Clinical Statistician Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A clinical statistician's mean annual salary is around $84,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about the field's career outlook to find out if becoming a clinical statistician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Clinical Statistician

Clinical statisticians organize clinical medical trials and analyze their data. Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of becoming a clinical statistician.

Pros of Being a Clinical Statistician
High average salary ($84,000 as of May 2014 for all statisticians)*
Large field of work (in 2011, 55.4% of surveyed members of the American Statistical Association worked for pharmaceutical companies or other medical organizations)**
Work opportunities excellent for those with advanced degrees*
Work contributes to drug development and health care**
Job requires creativity and independence (designing studies, deciding how to interpret data)***

Cons of Being a Clinical Statistician
Postsecondary education is necessary to enter the field (bachelor's generally required, higher degrees might be necessary for advancement)*
High degree of accuracy and repetition of tasks required when running tests***
Need to explain test results to a non-technical audience*
May need to collaborate with a variety of disciplines (such as marketing or business)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Statistical Association, ***O*NET Online.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

In general, statisticians determine ways to collect and interpret data and draw larger conclusions from their analysis. They often design experiments or surveys, and they may need to write instructions or teach others how to collect data when running a trial. As a statistician, you'll determine the reliability and validity of your data. You might use specialized statistical software to analyze data before presenting your results to others and recommending how to improve future studies. Most statisticians work full time, and clinical statisticians might perform work similar to that of biostatisticians or biometrics technicians. They're commonly employed by pharmaceutical companies, public health organizations, medical centers and hospitals.

As a clinical statistician, you'll help plan clinical trials, including deciding on the number of patients to be included and ways the data will be analyzed and interpreted. Clinical trials are required for every drug that is used to treat a disease, and your work organizing and analyzing trials helps provide clear tests and hypotheses about the effects of a drug or treatment. Your conclusions might determine how doctors can treat patients with a given condition, and the trial results could be reported in the media. In your daily work, you'll likely interact with a variety of groups, including scientists, physicians, consultants and a marketing team.

Career Path and Specializations

While new clinical statisticians generally do not supervise other employees, experienced workers could lead a team or multiple teams. For example, you might first lead one clinical trial before leading research groups in an entire drug project or therapeutic area. With enough expertise, you could also become an independent consultant. It's possible to specialize in particular areas of research within clinical statistics, such as health economics and genomics.

Salary Info and Outlook

Statisticians made an average of around $84,000 per year as of May 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). At that time, the top-paying state for statisticians was New Jersey, with a mean annual wage of about $110,000. The highest levels of employment were found within the federal government.

Employment is expected to grow 27% from 2012-2022, which is much faster than average for all professions. Opportunities should be better for those with a master's degree or Ph.D. and a background in a field such as biology or health.

What Are the Requirements?

A bachelor's degree in statistics is usually required to enter the field, although statisticians might choose to pursue other advanced degrees to broaden their knowledge and ensure promotion in their careers. Experience in computer science can be beneficial, since you will likely use technology to run tests and analyze data. Clinical statisticians might need to have a background in biology, chemistry, health science or another field that is relevant to pharmaceutical testing. In general, all statisticians should have the following skills:

  • Critical thinking abilities
  • Speaking and presentation skills
  • Problem-solving skills - knowing how to solve data collection problems to gain accurate results

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers commonly look for statisticians with advanced degrees and a background in particular computer programs. Previous clinical research experience might be a prerequisite for some jobs. The following is a sample of available jobs on in April 2012:

  • An Indiana medical product development lab was looking for a statistician to support tasks on some trials and lead statistical development on others. Candidates were required to have strong leadership skills. The posting specified that a Ph.D. in either statistics or biostatistics was required and experience in clinical research was preferred.
  • A scientific consulting firm in Pennsylvania advertised for a statistician to develop programming code and manage statistical support for clinical studies. According to the posting, candidates should have a bachelor's degree, strong programming skills and good writing skills. They should also be able to travel and maintain a flexible schedule.
  • A consulting group in New Jersey sought a statistician for a contractor position of at least six months. A master's degree or Ph.D. was required in addition to at least five years of experience. Duties included reviewing technical documents, developing a project timeline and collaborating with medical writing groups.
  • A Florida consulting group looked for a statistician with four years of experience and a master's degree. Listed duties included using statistical software packages to perform analysis and helping design clinical studies. Candidates needed to be willing to travel to various client sites, and they should have had permanent work authorization for the U.S.

How to Get Ahead

Many jobs require clinical lab experience, so it's best to take advantage of any clinical research opportunities available through your undergraduate or graduate school. Since many employers require the use of statistical software, you'll stand out if you can show that you know how to use a variety of programs and if you stay abreast of developments in technology.

Get Certified

You can become certified in SAS, a computer software suite commonly used by statisticians. One of many certification options is the SAS Certified Clinical Trials Programmer program, which tests your ability in programming and managing clinical trial data using SAS. To become certified, you must take an exam at a testing center. Other certifications are available in general SAS programming.

Other Career Paths

Maybe working in the pharmaceutical and medical industry isn't right for you. If you know you want to work with statistics, you could think about becoming an actuary. Actuaries generally work for consulting firms and insurance companies, where they use their mathematical and business background to calculate possible risks. You'll need a bachelor's degree, and you'll have to pass a series of exams to become a certified professional. With both a high salary ($103,000 on average as of May 2011) and job growth predicted at 27% from 2010-2020, according to BLS statistics, the field could let you put your statistics background to use developing policies based on predicted damages.

To use your analytical skills on larger social and financial issues, you could also consider becoming an economist. Economists research and analyze issues related to the economy and society as a whole. You might design solutions to economic problems, and you'll work with data to determine trends in the economy. You'll generally only need a bachelor's degree for an entry-level position in this field, and the BLS listed the average salary at around $100,000 per year as of May 2011. Job growth, however, was predicted to be slower than other occupations, at six percent from 2010-2020.

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