Marcy Souza is an associate professor of veterinary public health in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Souza also directs Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee (HABIT), which sponsors programs that bring pets to nursing homes, schools, and hospitals. HABIT dogs visit Hodges Library during finals week.
Souza also oversees a joint degree program with the Department of Public Health that allows students to get a master’s degree in public health with a veterinary concentration.
She’s currently working on food safety research, with one of her projects focusing on backyard poultry.
Every other December, Souza takes 10 to 12 students to Belize to study wildlife medicine and conservation. “As a faculty member, I have been trying to build more international opportunities for our students. I think getting people out of our country to see other people of different faiths and different colors just makes you a better person.”
Advice to her college-age self
“To not get so bent out of shape when things don’t go in the straight line you wanted them to.”
Souza did not take the direct route to veterinary school. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Maryland in College Park.
“I was doing clinical research for an MD and I really liked the research aspect and the medicine aspect, but I didn’t want to work on people.
“When I graduated college, I didn’t have a job that was meaningful and I was totally stressed about it.”
She started veterinary school at North Carolina State University in Raleigh at the age of 27.
Why this field
“My original plan was to get a PhD in marine mammal behavior,” she said, noting that she would have ended up as a researcher. She also considered becoming a zoo veterinarian or a clinic vet who sees patients all the time.
“That is fast paced but pretty miserable for life-work balance,” she said. “Lots of work, often unappreciative owners, not much pay. I’ll take my nonclinical position any day.”
While completing her residency at UT’s Veterinary Hospital in avian, zoo, and exotic animal medicine, Souza earned her master’s degree in public health.
“There are a lot diseases—like Zika and Ebola—coming out of animals and spilling into people.”
After finishing the residency at UT, Souza performed clinical work at UT’s Veterinary Hospital as well as Zoo Knoxville. Her interest shifted toward the role veterinarians can play in global and public health.
Lots of moves
Because her father worked for Budweiser, Souza moved around a lot when she was growing up. “Every time my dad got a promotion, we moved. So I was born in Houston and lived there until I was five. Then Jacksonville, Florida, until I was 11; Williamsburg, Virginia, until I was 14; upstate New Jersey for high school; then to Maryland for college. Williamsburg was probably my favorite because I could ride my bike to Busch Gardens and had a season pass.”
Souza has traveled to more than 30 countries around the world and has been to every continent except Antarctica. The world map in Souza’s office is marked with all the places she’s been.
In her free time, she loves to bike and is an active member of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club.
Her love for animals is apparent: she has four dogs, a parrot, a rabbit, three goats, and three chickens.
“I live on 16 acres so I have plenty of space for lots animals, and at some point we might get more.”
A large plush bat toy hangs in her office.
“I love all animals, even the ones who don’t necessarily seem as lovable,” she said.
Still on her bucket list
“I want to travel to Bhutan to see wildlife.”
Careerwise, her goals are to build a sustainable international program for veterinary students to give them global veterinary health experiences.
One last thing
As an undergraduate, Souza played water polo and took pottery classes.
A few years ago, she took lessons to learn to play the fiddle.
“It was bad,” she said. “It takes a lot of practice.”