New head of Epidemiology and Biostatistics goes back to his roots
Patrick Tarwater, PhD, is no stranger to the state of Texas. He grew up in Lubbock and earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in the state before moving north to Maryland.
So, when the Texas A&M University School of Public Health and Dean Shawn Gibbs, PhD, came calling with the opportunity to return to his home state, the decision to move back was an easy one for the native Texan.
Tarwater will be the Department Head of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and will assume his duties on Sept. 1, 2021. Tarwater comes to Texas A&M from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where he was a senior scientist and held joint appointments in the Department of Biostatistics and the Department of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
“I know Dean Gibbs and that he provides strong leadership that makes one excited to work with and for him,” Tarwater said. “The move also gets me back to Texas and closer to a lot of family and friends as well, so that certainly is a bonus.”
Tarwater, who has a background in both epidemiology and biostatistics, has taught in the Bloomberg Biostatistics and Epidemiology Summer/Winter Institutes since 2002. Since 2000, his collaborations with investigators at the Retrovirus Laboratory at the Hopkins School of Medicine, and investigators at the Department of Infectious Disease and Microbiology at the Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, have led to cutting-edge research and increased extramural funding.
“The School of Public Health is fortunate to have a scientist and leader of Dr. Tarwater’s caliber joining our faculty, the result of the first of 18 searches the school will conduct over the next two years,” Gibbs said. “I expect that he will set forth a vision to help the school and department achieve the next stage within our development, including increasing our research collaborations across the university.”
Tarwater will be taking over the department at a time when awareness of public health, especially epidemiology, is at the top of mind with people around the world. The current pandemic that is being experienced has opened eyes to exactly how important the two disciplines are.
“The terms epidemiology and epidemiologist have been said publicly more in the past 18 months than they have ever been uttered before,” Tarwater said. “But the impact is bigger than just that, it is the use of the phrase public health and the understanding that there are places called schools of public health.”
That hasn’t always been the case. Tarwater recounts that while he was earning his doctorate at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, which is the largest medical center in the world, he would often come across individuals who had no idea what he was talking about.
“I was in the middle of the largest medical center in the world and on any given day I could walk around and meet someone and say that I was in the School of Public Health,” Tarwater said. “The other person may have been from just across the street at the school of whatever and would have no idea what I was talking about. In other places the schools of public health are known as well as the schools of medicine and nursing and dentistry.
“Some of what this epidemic has brought to the public facing forefront is hearing from experts who are from schools of public health.”
Tarwater hopes to capitalize on the increased awareness of public health to continue to grow the presence of the school across the campus, the United States and the world.
“We have this massive top-tier university and system that we are part of and it’s a great time to grow the department and the school,” Tarwater said. “It’s not necessarily a need to change things; it is just a great time to make that extra effort to get the recognition for what is already going on at the school and for the great people we have in place.”
Tarwater, a fifth generation Texan, received his PhD in Biometry from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston in 1999, and both his master’s and bachelor’s in Mathematics from Texas Tech University in 1992 and 1990, respectively.
Tarwater’s career has included working for both the University of Texas School of Public Health and the Texas Tech Health Science Center at El Paso School of Medicine, where he collaborated, educated, and mentored hundreds of clinical and health science investigators as well as students.
In that role, he designed, implemented, and directed the first Biostatistics and Epidemiology Consulting Laboratory for the Texas Tech Health Science Center System.
“The lab was a big impact on campus because it highlighted that the leadership was choosing research and collaboration as a priority, by funding the lab and creating access for all clinical faculty to the expertise and manpower to assist them in creating their own research agendas,” Tarwater said.