Simplifying Statistics and Optimizing Patient Care

Allison Burlock

Allison Burlock

MS ‘10, Biostatistics; Manager of Data Analytics for the Visiting Nurses Association of Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties

Allison Burlock is the Manager of Data Analytics for the Visiting Nurses Association (VNA) of Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties, in Colchester, Vermont. In a health care payment market that is non-traditional, and more focused on innovation, businesses like the VNA are interested in monitoring changes in health care costs. Within this system, the essence of Allison’s job is to determine if moving costs of care are the result of increased volume or changes in price; in reality, however, her work involves much more than simple number crunching.

Allison recounts that a typical day at work involves everything from meeting with collaborators, to generating analyses, to completing monthly reports. Consequently, her days contain a lot of variety. “Almost every day is different from the day before,” Allison says, “which is one of the things that I like.” One of Allison’s favorite parts of her job at the VNA is meeting with clinicians to develop analyses. “It’s both epidemiological and statistical,” she says of these discussions. “The questions are, ‘What is your study population? What is your question?’ Sometimes getting clinicians in particular to articulate their research question is very hard.”

“I like being able to explain statistics to people in a way they can understand and feel comfortable with, so that they come away feeling excited.”

Allison finds the meetings with these clinicians rewarding because she gets to teach people about statistics. Her own love of statistics stems from the opportunity it provides for “making decisions with data,” a delight she readily shares with others. “So many people are intimidated by statistics and by research methods,” she says. “I like being able to explain statistics to people in a way they can understand and feel comfortable with, so that they come away feeling excited.”

This desire to work with individuals and help them on a personal level is what initially drew Allison to health services.  Directly following graduate school, she worked at a molecular genetics lab studying diabetic nephropathy. It was a world of chemicals, SNPs, and genes; for Allison, it was too removed from patient care. She wanted something at the macro level and soon transferred to a job at Trinity Health in Livonia as a clinical analyst. Now she is expanding her horizons to other areas of health care with the goal of equipping herself to one day be a hospital administrator.  

Allison explains that it is professionals at the immediate level of patient care who motivate her work. She believes that it is doctors, hospital administrators, and other health professionals, individuals who have to make difficult decisions every day in the best interest of their patients, that embody the noblest spirit of health services. Allison finds their attitude toward patient care inspiring. “To do what’s best for the patient,” she says, “I think that’s a really good way to live your work life.”

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