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Arnold School of Public Health

  • Salome-Joelle Gass

I Am Public Health: Salomé-Joëlle Gass

February 1, 2024 | Erin Bluvas,

If there was one thing Salomé-Joëlle Gass was never going to pursue as a career, it was public health. Though originally from Switzerland and Germany, she grew up in Zambia where her mum worked in the public health field conducting monitoring and evaluation.

“During high school she would recruit me to help her do interviews during my school breaks, which I was not pleased about,” says Gass.  

As an undergraduate at Abilene Christian University in Texas, she studied biochemistry and made plans to attend medical school. When Gass secured a summer internship with the Centre for Infectious Disease Research of Zambia after her freshman year, she thought the experience would look great on her future applications.

A crucial element for any student pursuing a Ph.D. is having an academic mentor who shares their area of interest, provides support and opens doors to opportunities.

Salomé-Joëlle Gass

“I was able to work with public health data, specifically HIV, for the first time, and I was hooked,” Gass says. “I ended up changing my entire career trajectory.”

Addressing HIV would continue to be Gass’s primary area of interest as she returned to Zambia’s version of the CDC for a second internship after graduation and began looking at master’s programs. She completed an M.S. in Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – researching the time from HIV diagnosis to the initiation of antiretroviral treatment in Zambia. She also gained additional experience in the field.

As a research consultant, she helped the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute better understand career opportunities at research institutions in Africa. Back at the Centre for Infectious Disease Research of Zambia for a third time, Gass studied HIV diagnostic tools and sexual and reproductive health as an epidemiologist for the public health agency. She also coordinated a study aimed at encouraging medication adherence among HIV-positive young people in Uganda and began looking at doctoral programs.

“A crucial element for any student pursuing a Ph.D. is having an academic mentor who shares their area of interest, provides support and opens doors to opportunities,” Gass says of her decision to enroll in the Ph.D. in Health Services Policy and Management program at USC. “Following an interview with Dr. Jan Ostermann, now my academic mentor, I was convinced that I would receive the personalized mentorship I desired.”

Salome-Joelle Gass
Salomé-Joëlle Gass is a student in the Ph.D. in Health Services Policy and Management program.

At the Arnold School, Gass has worked on several projects as a graduate research assistant. Ranging from telehealth to vaccination uptake, this work has focused on improving the health of vulnerable groups, such as people living with HIV and rural residents of South Carolina. It’s also resulted in eight peer-reviewed publications to her name since she matriculated in 2022.

“Dr. Ostermann’s guidance goes beyond providing valuable insights; he creates a supportive atmosphere that fosters exploration and growth,” Gass says. “His influence is evident in his encouragement for me to step outside my comfort zone, including applying for grants, presenting at conferences, and other experiences I hadn't considered. His mentorship has been a driving force in shaping my perspective and approach to research.”

Her own research continues to focus on HIV, leveraging her expertise in implementation science approaches in global health contexts. She’s also broadened her interests to include maternal and child health in low- and middle-income countries.

Though Gass loves living in Columbia and enjoys its proximity to numerous destinations in the Southeast, she’s already thinking ahead to her next steps. After graduating in 2026, she plans to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship or work with a nonprofit organization where she can apply her knowledge and skills in implementation and evaluation – likely involving HIV in a global setting.

“My work in HIV was heavily influenced by my upbringing in Zambia,” Gass says. “I grew up there at a time when there was no treatment available, and a diagnosis was a death sentence. It has been amazing to see the progress, but there is still a long way to go, and it has been a privilege to be a small part of it.”

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