Graham School News

Learn the Reporting Standards of Evidence-Based Medicine

Philip Baker

Reporting biostatistical medical information both accurately and comprehensibly can be challenging even in the most ideal research environments. During times of urgency, such as pandemics, when fluctuating data and political pressure obscure many objective areas of study, accurate and appropriate reporting is not only more challenging but all the more important.

During pandemics, you inevitably hear much conflicting advice," says Donna Stroup, an instructor for the Medical Writing and Editing Certificate course "Interpreting and Reporting Biostatistics." "Communities need a way of seeing the signal through the noise by assessing the strengths of different study designs and the different criteria for evidence. Medical writers and editors can give their audience these tools."   

Donna Stroup, Medical Writing and Editing instructor
Donna Stroup, MWE Instructor

Trained as a statistician, Dr. Stroup has over twenty-five years of international experience spearheading epidemiology programs and impacting public health. Currently the founding director of Data for Solutions, Inc., she started her career in academia before accepting a position at the CDC, where, for over two decades, she worked as a statistical scientist orchestrating national public health surveillance activities. While there, she contributed as an author to over 100 manuscripts.

“Unlike academia, where you are rewarded for work you do on your own, all my publications at CDC were reflective of my work with a team,” she says. “Those teams were composed of medical doctors, laboratorians, state public health professionals, and more professionals, so being able to communicate complicated statistical models to this multidisciplinary group and then to our audience was very important. Getting the science right was essential as well, because our publications had the weight of the agency behind them.”

WORK ON THE FRONT LINES OF HIV AND AIDS

At the CDC in the 1980s, Dr. Stroup developed some of the first statistical models used to ground important decision-making during the HIV pandemic. 

While earning an MA at Cambridge University, Dr. Stroup developed models for early cases of HIV in Britain. When she returned to the CDC, surveillance for HIV had just begun, and Dr. Stroup became instrumental in directing the critical scientific program activities in infectious diseases, initiating national public surveillance for HIV and AIDS. 

“Similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, HIV was largely unknown prior to its emergence, and it became a very political issue,” Dr. Stroup notes. “One way to approach this uncertainty was by developing statistical models for the occurrence of cases and deaths. In that way, we had some data for all the decisions we needed to make. At the time, I was one of five PhD scientists from across the CDC meeting together weekly to do this work.”


“Similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, HIV was largely unknown prior to its emergence, and it became a very political issue,” Dr. Stroup notes. “One way to approach this uncertainty was by developing statistical models for the occurrence of cases and deaths. In that way, we had some data for all the decisions we needed to make. At the time, I was one of five PhD scientists from across the CDC meeting together weekly to do this work.”


Since then, Dr. Stroup has continued to work on HIV and AIDS as a senior consultant for UNAIDS and the WHO, estimating the sizes of at-risk populations in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean.

STATISTICAL KNOWLEDGE WRITERS AND EDITORS NEED TO KNOW

Dr. Stroup uses her statistical training to teach medical writers and editors to completely and properly report research activities, data, and statistical analysis. Through “Interpreting and Reporting Biostatistics,” students will learn how to communicate the most common statistical tests and procedures used in biomedical and epidemiological research. 

“This is a very important course for medical writers and editors,” Dr. Stroup says. “Its lessons in communicating complex science using words, tables, graphs, and images will be used to help people make important decisions affecting community health. Without effective biostatistical reporting, the best science and medical research loses much of its value, since those in positions to use the results for prevention, treatment, and cure won’t have access to it.”