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Biostatistics and Medical Informatics Department

The Department's origins began in 1981 when the University of Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center (UWCCC), the School of Medicine, and the College of Letters and Sciences Statistics Department formed a joint task force and hiring committee. The goals were to develop, in collaboration with the Statistics Department, a biostatistical presence in the UWCCC and Medical School and to recruit a senior biostatistician as program director. The Statistics Department foresaw the growing need for statisticians with biostatistical expertise. The task force was chaired by the Director of the UWCCC at that time, the late Dr. Paul Carbone, whose support for this initiative over the next 15 years was the single greatest force for its ultimate growth and success. The UWCCC has continued in that tradition of support.

In 1982, Dr. David DeMets, was recruited from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to be the new program director. Dr. DeMets was jointly appointed to the Statistics Department and the Department of Human Oncology in the UWCCC/Medical School and was given four newly created tenure track faculty positions. Each year, one of the four new faculty positions was to be filled. Additional faculty positions were to be added later, depending on need and growth.

UW Madison Health Facilities, West Campus
UW Madison Health Facilities, West Campus

In 1984, the UWCCC created the Division of Biostatistics, subsequently expanding in 1986 to the UW School of Medicine Biostatistics Center. By then, biostatistical activity not only included the UWCCC but also ophthalmology, pediatrics, medicine, and aging research. In 1991 the Biostatistics Center applied for departmental status, which was awarded in June 1992. Throughout these years, the Biostatistics Training Program, administered through the Statistics Department, flourished with the Biostatistics Center/Department providing faculty to teach courses and an environment for students to gain valuable consulting/collaboration experience.

In 1996, the mission of the Department was expanded to include medical informatics and the Department was granted a name change to the Department of Biostatistics & Medical Informatics. At the UW, Medical Informatics primarily encompasses bioinformatics, medical imaging analysis, and clinical informatics. At the national, UW, and Medical School level, there was a recognition of an urgent need for biomedical informatics training in general and especially bioinformatics in order to facilitate the growth in genomics research. In addition, an ever increasing growth in information that physicians must integrate in taking care of patients requires that both medical students and fellows must have more training in clinical informatics. These needs led the Dean of the Medical School to invest in this new initiative. In addition, faculty in the Department of Computer Sciences were interested in developing a training program in biomedical informatics. The philosophy guiding the development of the biostatistical training program led to a similar structure for medical informatics training in collaboration with the Computer Sciences Department in the College of Letters and Sciences.

Dr. Paul Rathouz became chair of the department in 2010 and continues to keep the department at the forefront of research in the fields of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics. New faculty and staff positions have been added and plans are currently underway to develop a MS program in Biomedical Informatics that is housed within the department. A PhD program is likely to be added soon after. Current areas of emphasis for growth for the Department are health services research, encompassing the use of electronic health records and comparative effectiveness research; and statistical genetics and genomics applied to direct advances in human health and treatment of disease.
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