Antonio Olivas-Martinez is a mathematician, medical doctor in internal medicine, and now a PhD student studying biostatistics at the University of Washington. After earning a bachelor's in mathematics at the University of Sonora (Universidad de Sonora) in Mexico, Antonio went back to school to pursue interests in studying medicine. A profound personal experience influenced this academic shift. Now, Antonio holds two bachelor's degrees in mathematics and medicine, as well as an MD in Internal Medicine from the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition Salvador Zubirán (INCMNSZ/UNAM). His first exposure to applied statistics was during his medical residency working on data analysis for medical studies.
What specifically influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree in biostatistics?
During my residency in internal medicine, I worked on data analysis for many medical studies. This was my first exposure to the field of applied statistics, and I realized how much more statistics I had to learn to properly analyze real-world data from medical studies. I wanted to understand the inner workings of these tools, both from a theoretical perspective (i.e., how they are derived) and an applied perspective (i.e., how to properly apply them to answer health-related questions), and to contribute to the health sciences by filling existing gaps in statistics literature.
Why did you choose UW?
While learning more about biostatistics, I saw that many eminent biostatisticians are at the UW or are affiliated with the UW in some way, and that the program is considered one of the best in the world. I also wanted to join a program that allows students to explore before committing to a dissertation topic, and the UW’s program does a great job of this.
Tell us more about your current work.
I am currently working with Lurdes Inoue and her collaborators on individual patient data meta-analysis of clinical trials to evaluate the benefits of cardiac resynchronization therapy (pacemakers) in patients with heart failure in different subpopulations. Some of our analyses were recently published in Circulation, a journal from the American Heart association, we hope will help better inform clinicians about the benefits of pacemakers.
With Holly Janes, I am involved with projects on the design and analysis of active controlled trials, also known as non-inferiority trials, for HIV prevention. My work provides a new way of understanding and designing clinical trials when the control group receives an active therapy as opposed to a placebo. This research will allow us to assess the impact of the new therapy. In our case, we aim to assess new therapies to prevent HIV acquisition at the population level, especially for high-risk populations, and to also help clinicians and researchers to choose the design that will require the minimum number of individuals to obtain the information necessary to answer the questions of interest.
I also worked with Ruth Etzioni and her collaborators during my third year in the program. We developed an analytic approach to examine the potential bias of the true sensitivity of a cancer screening test (i.e. the frequency with which the test returns a positive result if the cancer is present) when it is estimated from a prospective screening program. This can help policymakers and clinicians better understand the population impact of cancer screening tools.
Have your goals changed since you started your PhD?
I have always been interested in biostatistics because I wanted to use my background in math and medicine to collaborate with clinicians and researchers in the health sciences. That goal hasn’t changed.
What are your goals/where do you see yourself after graduating?
I would like to work in a research institute where I could collaborate with clinicians in the design of medical studies and clinical trials, both by helping them apply existing methods and by working to develop new methods when existing tools are not sufficient. I would also like to consult for the World Health Organization (WHO) or similar international organizations that are involved in clinical trials in places where access to biostatisticians and health care resources is limited.
During the pandemic, you established the Mexicans in Statistics and Health Initiative. How has that program evolved since?
The Mexicans in Statistics and Health Initiative has evolved nicely.
In the early stages of the pandemic, we focused on communicating important topics about the COVID-19 pandemic to a general audience in Mexico. We are currently transitioning to writing documents for both clinicians and the general population about other topics for which we have observed general misunderstandings of statistical or epidemiological concepts.
I found it very rewarding to use my expertise to help other people understand about relevant topics such as the COVID-19 pandemic, especially given the lack of resources that target the Mexican population.
What is your favorite thing about being in the program?
I like that students can get involved in a breadth of research areas. All our faculty collaborators which include those at UW as well as Fred Hutch, Seattle Children's and other organizations are working on amazing projects and are willing to involve us in their areas of expertise, so I feel like I have opportunities to work on practically any topic.
What advice would you give to a student who is considering applying to a UW Biostatistics program?
At UW you will get all the tools you need to explore the topics that interest you. There is no shortage of course variety from statistical theory, to methods, to applications, or a combination of all. More importantly, you'll work with an extremely broad range of faculty within the department as well as external partners such as the UW Department of Statistics, Fred Hutch, and Seattle Children’s, to name a few. You will have many options to find a mentor (or more than one) in your fields of interest. In addition to academics and research, the community of students is warm, welcoming, and willing to help each other in almost any aspect of life. Seattle is also a great place to live, and you will have access to almost any activities or hobbies that may interest you.