Yale Offers SAS Training to State Health Department Staff

When the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) needed training to enhance skills in statistical software to help in its fight against disease, they turned to two centers at the Yale School of Public Health for help.

A partnership quickly formed and nine employees in the DPH’s Chronic Disease Unit are currently taking a modified version of Associate Professor Mayur Desai’s course, “Applied Analytic Methods in Epidemiology.” The DPH course blends distance learning and traditional face-to-face instruction. Desai teaches the same course to students at the Yale School of Public Health using more traditional lectures and labs. 

All semester, Desai has made screen recordings of his lectures at the Yale School of Public Health. The DPH employees watch the lectures that are recorded at Yale and uploaded to a special course website. Desai travels to Hartford every two weeks to do in-person computer lab assignments with the DPH epidemiologists so they can gain hands-on experience honing their data management and analysis skills.

Stephanie Poulin, MPH ’04, an epidemiologist with the Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program and the Diabetes Prevention and Control Program, is one of the state employees taking the class. “I wish I’d taken this course, when I was at Yale,” she says. Poulin notes that it is helpful to be able to watch the lectures in sections and when it fits into her work schedule. The class also uses a dataset that they are already familiar with. 

The DPH employees are learning the Statistical Analysis Software (SAS) that will help them better analyze trends in cancer, asthma, diabetes, health equity and maternal and infant nutrition programs. The training is being facilitated by the Yale Center for Analytical Sciences (YCAS) and the Connecticut-Rhode Island Public Health Training Center (CT-RI PHTC), both of which are based at the School of Public Health.

The DPH Chronic Disease Unit hopes that through standardizing statistical tools the team will provide consistent data analysis to its various programs. “We’re not collectively comfortable with SAS [right now],” says Justin Peng, another state epidemiologist who coordinated the training.

“This is a very different method of teaching for me,” says Desai. “The students can take in the recorded lectures at their own pace and we have longer labs. It is making me think about our teaching models, since it opens up possibilities to use class time differently.” Desai was the teaching assistant for DPH Commissioner Jewel Mullen’s (MD, MPH ’96) SAS class when she was a student at the Yale School of Public Health nearly 20 years ago.

Custom training sessions have been designed by YCAS for many departments at Yale and institutions as far away as St. Petersburg, Russia. “In training, one size does not fit all,” says YCAS executive director, William King. “We’ve created the most efficient possible use of resources to accommodate what the students’ daily practice looks like.” Since its inception in 2010, YCAS has become known for its expertise in R, an open-source programming language for statistical computing, data analysis and study design.

The DPH is also a partner and member of the advisory committee of the CT-RI PHTC, which provides continuing education to professionals in public health practice, particularly those in the governmental sector. “Last year, we conducted a series of focus groups with DPH staff to identify priority training needs. We are very pleased to provide their staff accessible, high quality training in key skill areas, such as this SAS course, as well as other areas of practice like quality improvement, performance management, leadership and HIV/AIDS,” says Kathi Traugh, CT-RI PHTC’s assistant director.







This article was submitted by Denise L Meyer on April 16, 2013.

Mayur Desai coaches an epidemiolgist at the State Department of Public Health.

Related People

Mayur Mahesh Desai

Associate Professor of Epidemiology (Chronic Diseases)

William Casey King

Lecturer in the Jackson Institute

Kathi J. Traugh

Director Public Health Workforce Development and Distance Learning