In what is often referred to as the era of “big data,” massive amounts of electronically stored data (information sets) on a variety of health-related issues carry insights with the potential to shape policies and practices that improve lives. As these databases become increasingly accessible to public health researchers, administrators, and policymakers, the demand for individuals with the skills to harness new technologies to tap into these treasure troves is soaring in hospitals, universities, research organizations, and the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, among others. To meet this growing demand, the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health (UCLA Fielding) will launch a new Master of Data Science in Health (MDSH) degree program beginning in the fall of 2023.
Data science focuses on methods to capture, maintain, process, analyze, and communicate large amounts of information; it is an emerging field requiring wide-ranging skills in areas that include statistics, mathematics, computer programming, data visualization, and communication. The newly established UCLA Fielding program, tailored to meet the demands of the dynamic and complex health industry by preparing students to be leaders in health data analytics, is designed to appeal to both current working professionals seeking to obtain the skills to thrive in a data-rich environment and recent college graduates looking to enter the burgeoning field. The program will be delivered in hybrid mode, offering in-person weekend classes and online as well as in-person classesweekday online sessions. Students will typically enroll in two classes per quarter and earn their degree in two years.
“The ubiquity of health information presents both an unprecedented opportunity and enormous responsibility,” said Dr. Ron Brookmeyer, dean of UCLA Fielding and a distinguished professor of biostatistics, the department in which the program will be based. “With our school’s longstanding academic strength in this area and our close community partnerships, we are ideally situated to lead multidisciplinary initiatives that turn data science into better health outcomes locally and globally.”
Health-related data is being produced at an ever-increasing speed by an ever-widening variety of sources, many of which are being linked — from the massive numbers of patient visits compiled in electronic health records to the real-time tracking data collected from wearable devices and environmental sensors, along with the self-reports gleaned from billions of social media posts logged every day. This “data deluge,” coinciding with the introduction of so-called high-performance computing and machine learning, has opened the door to findings that can guide more effective and efficient public health policies and practices.
“Public health professionals today encounter new and ongoing challenges such as climate change, environmental degradation,emerging epidemics, food insecurity, growing health disparities, homelessness, racial discrimination, and violence,” said Dr. Hua Zhou, UCLA Fielding professor of biostatistics and director of the new program. “To address these challenges, statistical modeling, machine-learning algorithms, and other new technologies in computational data science are rapidly becoming a mainstay of the field.”
Zhou noted that the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the power of widely available real-time data to undergird decisions affecting the health of large populations: Through ongoing analyses of electronic medical records and genomic sequencing information using machine learning, statistics, and other data science methods, public health guidance evolved on optimal treatment and prevention strategies, as well as how these were affected by emerging variants. Data science can also help to identify public health risks earlier and with greater precision, and point to the most efficient use of scarce resources toward desired goals.
But analyzing these massive and often unwieldy datasets requires advanced data analytic skills that traditional public health curricula have not addressed. “The way biostatistics was taught at the master’s level 15-20 years ago doesn’t apply directly to big data,” said Dr. Sudipto Banerjee, professor and chair of UCLA Fielding’s Department of Biostatistics. “There has been an earthquake of sorts with the advent of these database technologies, and only a small number of schools of public health in the country currently offer an MDSH or similar professional master’s degree program.”
Zhou and Banerjee stressed that UCLA Fielding’s new MDSH degree program will focus on developing the practical problem-solving skills needed by both current professionals and recent college graduates eyeing a career in data science within the health sector. Each course will incorporate actual data sets — all of them substantially larger than those used in more traditional statistics and biostatistics programs — that students will work with as they develop skills in data engineering, data visualization, data mining and exploring, machine learning, and research design. The MDSH degree will require a capstone project through which the students apply data science tools to explore and solve a real-world healthcare or public health problem.
Graduates are certain to be in great demand. The recruiting website Glassdoor has ranked data scientist at the top of its annual list of the “50 best jobs in America” multiple times since 2016. LinkedIn listed data scientist as the No. 1 most promising job in 2019. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected data scientist as the 11th-fastest-growing occupation from 2019 to 2029.
UCLA Fielding’s Department of Biostatistics includes world leaders in resolving the challenges posed by massive volumes of data. The department’s faculty collaborate with researchers across the UCLA campus and around the globe on wide-ranging health-related topics, bringing rigor to study design, data collection, and data analysis while providing a wealth of opportunities for student participation in research.
Applications for Fall Quarter 2023 are now open. The priority deadline for enrollment is July 25, 2023.
Virtual Information Sessions for Prospective MDSH Students
- June 20, 2023 | 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM PST
- June 27, 2023 | 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM PST
- July 11, 2023 | 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM PST
- July 18, 2023 | 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM PST
- July 25, 2023 | 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM PST