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Arnold School of Public Health

  • Tara Suhs in Limerick, Ireland

Passion for horses and public health leads December graduate to pursue career in zoonotics

December 13, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, 

Tara Suhs has been handling horses and riding competitively most of her life. In the process of caring for her horses, the Daphne, Alabama, native learned a lot about zoonotics—diseases, such as rabies, salmonella, and West Nile virus, that can spread between animals and humans.

In parallel, Suhs was struggling to choose a topic for a high school math paper. Her teacher suggested the 2014 Ebola Epidemic, and Suhs has been fascinated with infectious disease epidemiology ever since. In determining the best path to pursuing her newly identified career, Suhs noted that USC offered every program she was considering.

“The possibilities were endless for me,” she says. “It did not hurt that the school is beautiful and has a great reputation. It is also centrally located to a lot of horse shows in which I compete.”

After ultimately choosing public health as her major, the Capstone Scholar met clinical associate professor Kara Montgomery. “She has been encouraging in every decision I have made, and made sure that if epidemiology is what I want to do, that I am on the right path,” Suhs says of her mentor. “She has also given me very practical advice, making sure I don’t put too much on my plate.”

Public health is not just about health; it is about everything that affects the health of the public.

-Tara Suhs, B.S. in public health graduate

Suhs’ undergraduate tenure has included a well-rounded set of experiences, such as a semester studying in Maynooth, Ireland and continuing to work with and ride horses. She’s also contributed to multiple research projects.

Last summer, Suhs assisted clinical assistant professor Alicia Flach with her research in the exercise science department’s physical therapy program. Together, they examined the effect of exercise on the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Suhs learned about the challenges of diagnosing and treating the disease as well as how to interview patients and translate observations of physical movements into numerical data.

Over the past few months, the Dean’s Honor List recipient has worked on two additional projects. Suhs is assisting epidemiology and biostatistics professor Angela Liese with her SEARCH Food Security Study.  She is also working as an intern for the rabies prevention program at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

After Suhs’ December graduation (a semester early), she will continue these roles as she applies to graduate programs with a focus in epidemiology or infectious disease. Long term, she’d like to research the extent of the environmental influences on the transmission of zoonotic diseases (e.g., determining if deforestation impacts the incidence of rabies).

“Public health is not just about health; it is about everything that affects the health of the public,” Suhs explains. “You have to be prepared to learn a lot, but that also makes it one of the most interesting programs of study because so much affects health and there are a lot of aspects most people would never consider. If you like critical thinking, this is the program for you.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.