Counting on Health

Paula Diehr ’63, P’90 is celebrated for her many contributions to the field of health services research

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Pioneering biostatistician Paula H. Diehr ’63, P’90 has developed statistical methods and approaches used by thousands of health services researchers. She has used her mathematics and statistics training to design innovative methods and longitudinal analyses using large datasets to draw out meaningful information and conclusions about medical diagnoses, healthcare interventions, understanding mental health services, and large health insurance reimbursement systems.

The ARCS Foundation Inc., a nonprofit, volunteer women’s organization that provides scholarships to students majoring in the STEM and health disciplines, named Diehr the 2024 inductee into the ARCS Alumni Hall of Fame. It is an honor that brings her career journey full circle.

Through a Los Angeles Chapter ARCS Scholar Award in 1960 and 1961, Diehr was able to attend Harvey Mudd College. It was one of the chapter’s first awards to the College and its first to a woman. “The support from the ARCS Foundation was the basis of my entire career,” Diehr says. “Coming from a modest background, I could not have afforded my undergraduate education without this help. At a time when there were not many female scientists, the support from groups such as ARCS for a female scientist was particularly gratifying.”

With son, Michael Diehr ’90, Paula Diehr ’63 developed a Healthy Life Caluculator that allows seniors to estimate the number of “good” years they have remaining.

Hall of Fame inductees are ARCS Scholar Alumni who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of science in innovation, discovery, economic impact, the development of future scientists and the enhancement of the United States’ scientific competitiveness. Diehr, a 2013 HMC Outstanding Alumna, is professor emeritus in biostatistics joint with health (now known as Health Systems and Population Health) at the University of Washington School of Public Health, where she spent her entire career. She is the author of more than 200 scientific papers and a fellow of the American Statistical Association, the Association for Health Services Research and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Her work directly impacted methods for assessing healthy weight standards for older adults and diagnostic rules for maladies, such as headaches and pneumonia. Globally, her analytical tools helped other researchers use large datasets to study healthcare interventions and their economic impact. With son, Michael Diehr ’90, she developed a Healthy Life Calculator that allows seniors to estimate the number of “good” years they have remaining. Unlike other web calculators, this one estimates how long a person will be healthy and active, gives ranges of likely values and is documented in a peer-reviewed publication.

“In this 65th anniversary year of ARCS Foundation, it is especially meaningful that Dr. Diehr, the first woman scholar to receive an ARCS Scholar Award from our Los Angeles Founding Chapter, is our honored Hall of Fame Inductee,” said Beth Wainwright, national president of ARCS. Since 1960, the Los Angeles Chapter has granted to Harvey Mudd $4.3 million for 715 ARCS Scholar Awards given to 405 ARCS Scholars. “As a pioneering biostatistician and leader in the field of health services research, Dr. Diehr is a welcome addition to the distinguished ARCS Alumni Hall of Fame.”

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