Role of a Medical Statistician

Medical Statisticians are key players in a drug development project team within the research, development and manufacturing of a pharmaceutical product.

Statisticians are becoming highly sought in the pharmaceutical industry and increasingly play leading roles in areas such as pharmacology, health economics, real world evidence, personalised healthcare, manufacturing and marketing. 

Statisticians are involved in a wide range of activities, including:

  • Designing scientifically sound experiments or trials
  • Defining data collection methods
  • Determining the analysis methodology and requirements
  • Performing data analysis
  • Correct interpretation and decision making
  • Present results to senior managers and government agencies around the world

Statisticians almost never work in isolation in the pharmaceutical industry. Project teams are made up of a variety of disciplines, to include doctors, scientists, operations managers, compliance and marketing teams.


Role of a Statistical Programmer

Many pharmaceutical companies and contract research organisations (CROs) employ statistical programmers who work closely with the statisticians to carry out a wide range of activities.

Their main role is to help design and then program the tables, listings and figures that summarise the data collected during a clinical trial. Statistical programmers are also responsible for developing and validating computer software and macros, both in-house and externally purchased, used by both statisticians and statistical programmers.

It is important that they are often searching for the most efficient techniques for statistical reporting and skills such as good algorithm design and defensive programming are important. Programmers also need to stay up-to-date with different software functionalities and tools so that programmers can easily adapt their existing knowledge to new programming environments and languages.

Job Requirements


Each year the demand for qualified statisticians increases.

Statistical programmers require a BSc in subjects with a high numerical or computing content. Medical statisticians almost always have an MSc in Statistics, and a PhD is not uncommon.   The MSc courses are seen to provide a strong background in statistics as well as the ability and confidence to apply the knowledge to a wide range of problems. 

Some organisations sponsor MSc students with the aim of ensuring that high standards of academic training within medical statistics are maintained. Contact university course coordinators to inquire about sponsorship options.

They need to be able to work both individually and within teams, to be able to communicate statistical concepts and influence colleagues with other expertise’s and to think strategically and make a wider contribution to the employer beyond a purely statistical input.

Employers look beyond educational background and seek a range of capabilities:

  • Ability to work individually and within teams
  • An eye for detail, well organised and a logical thinker
  • Aptitude for programming. Companies typically use SAS, R, Python, STATA, SQL.  Training will usually be provided to new starters.
  • Confident communicator and presenter of statistical concepts to colleagues with non-statistical background
  • Influence colleagues from other disciplines and to think strategically beyond the statistical analysis

Job Prospects

Do you want a career that is exciting, varied, always advancing and makes a real difference to the lives of people all over the world?

Pharmaceutical research and development is changing fast and with it the roles of statisticians and statistical programmers are continually being re-defined.  The historical ‘one-size fits all’ drug model is quickly being replaced by innovative, targeted, personalized medicine. The increasing pressure of government budget cuts and availability of biosimilars necessitates an alternative, more agile approach to drug development.  The pharmaceutical industry is moving into a new era where analytical skills are highly sought:  adaptive, flexible trial designs are replacing traditional phase I-IV models, interactive, dynamic data displays provide more flexibility and speed over traditional static reports. 

The desire for personalized healthcare is leading the way to exploring high dimensional data such as imaging, genetics and biomarkers.  New and exciting opportunities are opening in the field of big data and with-it techniques for artificial learning and machine learning.

For these reasons, the industry is turning to the following innovative approaches:

  • Screening large numbers of candidate molecules for development using high power computing
  • Furthering our understanding of the biology of diseased patients to help identify specific disease targets
  • Systematic review (network meta-analyses and data-mining) of prior research together with newly available data
  • Modelling and simulation based approaches which link information from pre-clinical animal studies and human clinical trials
  • Bayesian statistics that allow prior information from existing knowledge to be used
  • Flexible and efficient trial designs that seek to terminate ineffective drugs early on. Valuable resources can then be re-directed towards more promising drugs
  • Close partnerships with academia, technology companies, patient advocate groups
  • High dimensional data such as imaging, genetics and biomarker that require machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques
  • Increased sharing and transparency of data

In almost all these areas, the role of statistics and statisticians is growing. Are you up for the challenge?

Perks of working in Medical Research

  • Highly competitive pay and a great range of additional benefits
  • Flexible working hours and opportunities to work from home
  • Colleagues include doctors, scientists, data managers, medical writers, marketing and many, many more!
  • Good job progression offering a diverse career path
  • Attend training courses, statistical and scientific conferences
  • A constantly changing industry with plenty of opportunities to learn something new
  • Opportunities for international travel

The work is more varied than you might expect; attend meetings, conferences and participate in training to develop personal or technical skills. The best aspect of this job is working in a multidisciplinary team to make a real difference to patients. The work is highly rewarding; be at the forefront of finding cures for today’s most serious illnesses.

There are many opportunities to travel abroad to discuss the design of trials, collect information, discuss results and meet with the regulatory authorities. There are also opportunities for temporary or permanent employment abroad as most companies are international. The salaries and benefits are very competitive with statistical posts in other industries.

More experienced colleagues will often support a junior statistician. This lends itself to continual learning and will be backed up with more formal training. The future for statisticians who want to progress can go in several directions - as a manager, of people or projects, or as a technical statistical specialist.

Listen to our Podcast!

Five statisticians share their experience and advice to students

This podcast series is suitable for anyone studying a degree in mathematics or statistics and would like to learn more about the career opportunities available using their numerical skills in the medical setting. Others, who may be considering a career change, or studying alternative degrees with a high numerical content may also find the podcast useful.

The podcast consists of 5 bite-sizes episodes approximately 20-30 minutes in duration, with each episode covering a specific topic. 
A group of 5 statisticians ranging in experience and expertise discuss:

  • The role of a medical statistician
  • Career paths and opportunities
  • How to become a medical statistician
  • An overview of the drug development process
  • Tips on applying for jobs and preparing for interviews

Listen to the Podcast here!

The podcast was created in partnership with Alexander Schacht from 'The Effective Statistician'. 


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