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ARCS Hall of Fame Biostatistician Ahead of The Bell Curve

Posted on Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Dr. Paula Diehr has worked in many applied areas in health services research in her long career, but she’s always remained a biostatistician. Data and numbers are not only her passion, but what she excels in. Her early work was instrumental in helping establish biostatistical principles in Health Services Research.

After more than 60 years as a health services biostatistician, Dr. Diehr has been recognized for her impact on public health as the 2024 inductee into the prestigious ARCS Alumni Hall of Fame.

“I am very honored…I appreciate it particularly because of the two times in my life that ARCS Foundation has been important to me,” she said. “The first was when I received the Scholar Award at eighteen years old and had just entered the field. I couldn’t have gone to school without the support. It was the basis of my whole, very satisfying career. Now, sixty years later, ARCS is in my life again with the Hall of Fame Award, and I’m very appreciative of it. I’m particularly pleased that this group of philanthropic women supports women scientists.”

ARCS Foundation has recognized Dr. Diehr as a biostatistician who developed statistical methods and approaches used by thousands of medical researchers and health services, in addition to her early and influential work in the healthcare industry.

Dr. Diehr was the first female ARCS Scholar awardee in 1960 while attending Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. From there, she completed her PhD in Biostatistics at UCLA. Since then, she has pioneered the use of large datasets in the health and health services research areas. Her access to and the methods for structuring and analyzing such big data sets was only the beginning.

“I was one of the first statisticians in this area of health services research and population studies. Early statistical work across large populations was only emerging as early computers held the potential to combine data across many sources. I developed new statistical methods for combining existing data from others into larger datasets.” She said, “It was really very exciting to have all this data available when it hadn’t been available before.”

Her work has directly and indirectly influenced the development of diagnostic procedures, standards for healthy living in older adults, and the analysis of large healthcare costs (such as those found in The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and Medicare). Her more recent research, focusing on older adult population health spans, provides yet another tool based on big datasets that can guide individuals as well as health systems in planning for our aging populations. Her Healthy Life Calculator can help individuals make plans as they age. Dr. Diehr confirms, “I used it myself to help decide when I should downsize and move to a retirement facility.”

As a member of the ARCS Alumni Hall of Fame, Dr. Diehr joins the company of fifteen other outstanding ARCS alumni who are also recognized for their leadership in scientific innovation and discovery. As a group, these individuals represent the over 12,000 ARCS scholars who have received awards since 1958 and the diversity of talent that keeps the United States’ science, engineering, medical research, and technology competitive in the world. View the press release here.