The origin of the Medical College of Virginia dates back to 1838 when it began as the medical department of Hampden-Sydney College, an esteemed private liberal arts college for men established in 1775 near Farmville, Va. Nearly 70 years later, the medical department of H-SC received an independent charter from the Virginia General Assembly and became the Medical College of Virginia (MCV). In 1968 the Virginia General Assembly created Virginia Commonwealth University with the merger of the Medical College of Virginia and the Richmond Professional Institute.
The Department of Biostatistics originated in 1958 as the Division of Biometry within the Department of Biophysics and Biometry in the autonomous MCV. The Division of Biometry was headed by Malcolm Turner, Ph.D. At that time, biometry was defined as the study and application of mathematical and statistical research to biological subjects, and Turner considered himself to be a biometrician rather than a biostatistician.
In 1963 Turner left MCV, and the Division of Biometry split off from the Department of Biophysics and Biometry to become an independent Department of Biometry within MCV. After an international search, the college recruited S. James Kilpatrick Jr., Ph.D., to head the Department of Biometry in 1965. The primary charge given to the chair was to provide statistical and computing assistance to investigators throughout MCV in order to facilitate research. Other objectives of the new department included provision of courses and lectures in statistics within the several professional schools, pursuit of research and provision of a graduate training program in biometry. In order to accomplish these goals, the Scientific Computation Laboratory became part of the department in 1965. In addition to the chair, the department consisted of one master’s-level faculty member and two computer assistants, who ran the primitive RPC 4000 Royal McBee computer. At that time, this was the only computer devoted to research on the MCV Campus.
The department expanded in the late 1960s with the recruitment of Roger Flora, Ph.D., from West Virginia University and the appointment of Walter Hansbrough Carter Jr., who had just received his Ph.D. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. In 1967 they developed a graduate training program in biometry, offering the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, when a full-time dean of the graduate school was appointed. The first students, Dave Weiss and Mike Hogye, enrolled in the new graduate training program in 1969. In order to activate the mathematical component of the department, Charles Church, Ph.D., was recruited. In 1972 the faculty petitioned the administration to change the name of the department from biometry to biostatistics, to better reflect the department’s activities and interests. The administration agreed, and the newly named Department of Biostatistics was located in the first basement of Sanger Hall, named in honor of William T. Sanger, M.D., the third president of the college and founding trustee of the medical college.
In 1983 Kilpatrick stepped down as chair, and Sung Choi, Ph.D., served as interim chair until 1984. In 1984, Carter was chosen to chair the department. Under Carter’s leadership, the department grew to include 10 full-time faculty members and 15 doctoral candidates with an expansion of its collaborative research activities across the entire university.
After Carter retired in 2005, R.K. Elswick, Ph.D., served as interim chair until 2007. After a national search, Shumei Sun, Ph.D. was recruited in November 2007. The department has doubled in size and now boasts approximately 20 full-time faculty. Staff were added to support an enhanced focus on research, including an analyst to support the computing cluster system (a far cry from the department's original RPC 4000 Royal McBee computer).