Sarah Summerbell

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PEOPLE: THE HEART OF THE CVM

Sarah Summerbell

Sarah Summerbell’s graduate students study at the frontier of veterinary medicine, where animal health overlaps with human health and the fortunes of a single family farm intersect with water quality, health care, and international epidemics. 

“This whole One Health thing is kind of a cliche now, but it’s true—everything is interconnected,” says Summerbell. “I think sometimes veterinarians end up being the forgotten link. It’s fun to see our group interact with the School of Public Health because there’s a really nice relationship and a lot of respect going both ways. Everybody has something to bring to the table.” 

Summerbell is coordinator of the CVM’s DVM/MPH program and veterinary public health and preventive medicine residency programs. She supervises a half-dozen postgraduate DVMs in a two-year residency program that combines veterinary medicine with public health. To be eligible, the candidates must have at least a year of experience working in the field, outside of the classroom.

“We’ve found that the more real-life work experience they have, the better they can perform once they’re in the residency program,” Summerbell says.

Sarah Summerbell meets with DVM/MPH student David Moe. The college’s DVM/MPH program dual-degree program allows students to combine their veterinary studies with the University’s master’s of public health program.Sarah Summerbell meets with DVM/MPH student David Moe. The college’s DVM/MPH program dual-degree program allows students to combine their veterinary studies with the University’s master’s of public health program.

Summerbell grew up on a farm in Amboy, Minnesota, where her family raised crops and a few cows and pigs. As a University of Minnesota student, she worked at the College of Veterinary Medicine while studying to become a teacher. 

“It was kind of a good fit because of my background growing up on a farm,” she says. “My degree was in vocational-secondary education. It kept me within that agriculture realm and education. It was a good coming together of my interests.”

After graduation, she taught high school but quickly realized “this isn’t working for me or for the students,” she says. “It just wasn’t the right fit.”

So she renewed her contacts at the College of Veterinary Medicine and found a job in continuing education in 1999. She became a graduate programs assistant and, later, moved to the combined graduate and professional program with the School of Public Health.

“It was awesome, because it gave me the chance to do all the things that I love to do,” she says. “And I get to work with students and I get to work with faculty.” 

Summerbell says “it’s interesting for me to watch my DVM/MPH students. They either decide to do this dual degree program right away—the minute they get into vet school they understand that there’s interplay between animal health and people health and mental health and environmental health. They get that. Or, they have no idea until they spend a couple years in vet school and they get exposed to how all of these disciplines work together, and then they come to the program. It’s kind of fun to see how they make those connections.”

After their training at the University, Summerbell’s students often go on to leadership and policy roles, usually in government and academia, including the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Board of Animal Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Centers for Disease Control Epidemic Intelligence Service.

“They go on to do some really cool things,” she says. “They leave our program and move into leadership positions where they can speak to policy and work with consumers—just a real fun variety of things.”