Sarah Shrum Davis had a winding path to discover her love of epidemiology, but now works as a coordinator for the New Mexico Emerging Infections Program. Hand in hand with the CDC, Shrum Davis and the EIP team monitor infectious diseases and have been specifically researching more information on and relating to the coronavirus.
After graduating from the University of Georgia, Shrum Davis moved to New Mexico and worked in a wide variety of fields, from zookeeping to mental health to education. However, once she discovered the field of epidemiology, she never looked back.
“Once I stumbled across epidemiology, everything just sort of clicked for me, and I absolutely fell in love with it and I knew that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my career,” Shrum Davis said.
At UNM, Shrum Davis graduated with a Master of Public Health with a concentration in epidemiology. While attending school for this, Shrum Davis was a student employee with EIP from 2012 to 2016.
“I’ve known her work from the beginning and have always been impressed by it,” EIP director Sarah Lathrop said.
After graduating from UNM, Shrum Davis spent four years working for the New Mexico Department of Health Infectious Disease Bureau but came back to UNM’s Health Sciences Center to work with EIP.
“The thing that I love about epidemiology is that I can use science to help people,” Shrum Davis said.
Shrum Davis started working with EIP in March 2020, right before the University shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the pandemic, the focus of EIP shifted heavily to analyzing COVID-19, but the program also analyzes its impact on other diseases as well.
“I’m just so proud of the work that (EIP) is doing,” Shrum Davis said. “Every one of our staff has been co-authored on an article at least once in the last year. And we’ve been able to continue our high-quality surveillance for infectious diseases, both COVID and non-COVID.”
For Shrum Davis herself, the shutdown was difficult. While she worked 80-hour weeks, her husband had to shift to a virtual school education, and both of them had to watch their three year old child at home since daycares also shut down.
“The pandemic has impacted everyone,” Shrum Davis said. “I don’t know a single person who hasn’t had to change their work, change the way they’re living, who hasn’t lost someone, over the course of this whole thing.”
However, Shrum Davis has found her role at UNM to be an opportunity to help others become more knowledgeable about the virus that’s pervading the community.
Get content from The Daily Lobo delivered to your inbox
“I think it’s really unfortunate that (COVID-19) has become so politicized,” Shrum Davis said. “And I think that the key to improving that is in education, and that’s one of the reasons that I’m so proud to work for UNM.”
Shrum Davis said her team at EIP is outstanding, even though some have never even met in person.
“They have achieved incredible things. The CDC has been using our data, both in publications and to make policy decisions … (EIP’s employees have continued to) help each other out through these incredibly difficult past two years, and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Shrum Davis said. “It’s an honor to work with this team.”
Lathrop noted Shrum Davis’ ability to expertly communicate and empathize, which she said may stem from Shrum Davis’ second master’s degree in counseling.
“I like to brag about her because she is an amazing employee and just a wonderful all-around person,” Lathrop said.
Although Shrum Davis was only at EIP for five days before the shutdown, Lathrop said she went to work right away afterward and set up a contract tracing system as well as taught others how to contract trace. EIP only had eight employees before the pandemic, and Shrum Davis later helped hire, train and supervise 12 new employees.
“I don’t think she realizes how amazing she is, but all the rest of us do … (She’s) utterly amazing at her job and we’re so, so happy to have her working for us,” Lathrop said.
Shrum Davis also found a love in teaching at UNM and serves as adjunct faculty at the College of Population Health. One of the classes she taught was called “Pandemics: Past & Present,” which compared the COVID-19 pandemic to other pandemics.
“I really love teaching both undergraduate and graduate students,” Shrum Davis said. “It's the thing that really energizes me. I love their energy; I love their questions. Whenever I look at my students, I’m like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait until they’re in the field and I’m working for them one day.’”
Looking forward, Shrum Davis wants to continue working with UNM’s “vibrant community” and hopes to attain a doctorate in the future.
“She’s bound for great things and (EIP is) glad to have her with us for as long as we can keep her,” Lathrop said.
Megan Gleason is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @fabflutist2716