UNTHSC professor and Biostatistics Chair Sharon Homan, PhD, has found a way to give her students the BEST in academics and professional experience. Last fall, she created a Biostatistics and Evaluation Services and Training Center called “BEST” within the SPH, to serve as a data analytics resource for researchers and public health practitioners, agencies and health departments. BEST serves clients internationally, nationally and regionally.
Master of Public Health (MPH) Biostatistics students taking the BIOS 6320 Biostatistics Research and Consulting class participate in BEST community health projects to train in research design, data analysis and program evaluation. Consulting fees collected are used to fund SPH scholarships. The center participates in 15 to 20 paid and nonpaid research and evaluation projects each semester.
According to the American Statistical Association, there is an increased need today for doctoral students to graduate with the analytic and computational skills “to confront this age of massive data,” as well as the communication and leadership skills to work in the many interdisciplinary settings of public health. Through the BEST Center, students build these skills over two years of practical, hands-on study, leading projects, conducting data analyses, designing reports, and developing communication plans for sharing statistical methods and findings to clients in lay-friendly terms. Professional ethics, business planning and project management skills are an important part of the process, as is the ability to collaborate with key leaders, program managers and policy makers who may be involved.
To date, BEST has served four national and regionally-funded projects, as well as eight public health practice service projects, including a survey of providers and community members for the Shawnee County Community Health Assessment, Topeka, Kansas; a survey report for the Tarrant County Hispanic Wellness Fair; and school-based focus group facilitations and evaluations for the Tarrant County Health Department’s “Young Dads” teen fathers program.
Funded contracts have included the Texas Health Institute’s HRSA-funded Mountain States Genetics Regional Collaborative Project, and the Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department’s evaluation of outpatient and jail treatment programs for probationers.
Most recently, a BEST team worked with Cook Children’s Health Care System to develop an action-oriented workbook promoting the use of promising, evidence-based approaches to improving children’s health, in the areas of asthma, abuse, obesity, dental health, mental health and safety.