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Arnold School of Public Health

Graduate boosts clinical research skills, complementing medical degree with master’s in biostatistics

August 19, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

For Xingpei Zhao, advancing medicine and public health is a family tradition. Her grandfather was a pulmonologist who devoted his life to tuberculosis research, regularly donating his salary to help patients living in poverty.

“Tuberculosis is highly related with a lack of basic health services, poor nutrition and inadequate living conditions, and so my grandfather left the city and moved to rural area with all of his family members in order to serve his patients better,” Zhao says. “Inspired by my grandfather, I decided to study and work in public health and help others overcome illness.”

She studied clinical medicine at Anhui Medical University in the Chinese city where she grew up and then completed a three-year residency in family medicine at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. She practiced medicine at a community healthcare center before moving to the United States to continue her studies.

Zhao chose biostatistics to improve her analytical skills in clinical research. The Arnold School’s Master of Science in Public Health in Biostatistics offered her ideal curriculum, and the enthusiasm of the faculty members she met at the beautiful campus during open house confirmed her decision.

As a research assistant with the Rural and Minority Health Research Center, Zhao built and managed data systems for Prisma Health Midlands Heathy Start Program. The program focuses on reducing disparities in infant mortality and adverse perinatal outcomes while promoting maternal and child health.

“I felt so delighted when I found the system and reports can offer our program an effective workflow and data quality control,” Zhao says. “For instance, the system can generate an alert to inform community health workers or nurse practitioners immediately once participants’ responses indicated they are involved with high-risk behaviors.”

Her thesis project focused on the statistical analysis of brain imaging data, from communication sciences and disorders professor Julius Fridriksson's Aphasia Laboratory, for aphasia patients. She hopes this information will help neuroscientists understand impairment in language processing.

Zhao’s success during her master’s program resulted in a perfect GPA and her receipt of the Outstanding Biostatistics Master’s Student Award. After her August graduation, she will extend her studies with the department’s Ph.D. in Biostatistics program. Zhao will also continue working with the faculty she found during her master’s program, particularly mentors Yuan Wang and Jihong Liu.

“I am impressed by Dr. Wang’s meticulousness and persistence, and her spirit and words inspired me to pursue my academic goal,” Zhao says. “Dr. Liu’s enthusiasm for the research leaves a strong impression on me, and her professional suggestions can always guide me to find the solutions.”

Long term, Zhao plans to devote herself to clinical research that provides more effective medications to patients. “I want to work in the hospital or clinical research organization as a biostatistician and perform my biostatistical consulting to physicians through ‘research language’ that can be understood by both sides,” she says.

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