Dr. David Smith has practiced cardiology for 35 years. He changed course about ten years ago, after retirement age, to become a palliative care physician.
Now 75, he has treated more patients than he might have expected.
“The past two years have been so heartbreaking,” says Smith, amid the covid-19 pandemic. “We have just seen so many sad stories.”
He had lost patients as a cardiologist, but not with the same frequency as a palliative care physician during a pandemic.
“In cardiology, we would go months before one of our patients died, but with that, some days three or four people would die. Just dealing with this emotionally is exhausting,” he admits.
He sometimes refers to his field as supportive medicine rather than palliative medicine, as palliative medicine is often associated with the hospice. The patients he sees may live for years, he says, or they may only live for a few days. Her job is to bridge the gap between what can be a busy hospital environment and the individual needs and emotions of patients and families.
“We want people to live as long as they can, as well as they can,” he says. “We have to walk alongside and face advanced disease.”
Smith didn’t always know he wanted to be a doctor, whoever he was.
He started at a one-room school in Fomby, Ark., Little River County, where his mother was a teacher, then attended school in “the great town of Ashdown”.
In high school, he delivered the Texarkana Gazette in the afternoon on his scooter, his dog running alongside.
“My dad had an eighth grade education and was a self-taught plumber,” Smith says. “In the summer, I would help my dad with his plumbing and electrical business.”
Digging ditches in the Arkansas summer sun led him to consider a career that required less manual labor. He was interested in science but disliked mathematics, so his initial plan to become an engineer or nuclear physicist didn’t seem like the best way to go.
He majored in chemistry and biology at Harding University in Searcy. It was her father who suggested medical school.
“I had been injected with penicillin so many times when I was a kid with strep throat, and I hated the injections, but I thought about it for a moment and thought, ‘Air conditioning‘,” says- he laughing.
He attended the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia, Missouri, and remained in that state for his internship and residency.
“But I loved Arkansas,” he says.
He met his wife, Linda, in Harding, where he was together in student government.
“She was vice-president and I was president, so we worked a lot together,” he says.
They got married 53 years ago. She taught in high school while he was studying medicine.
“We lived in a tiny mobile home for six years, and we sold it and bought a new car with what we got for it and went back to Little Rock,” says Smith. “It was a great investment.”
In 1977, he opened a cardiology practice in Little Rock.
“I loved cardiology – I still love it. I thought I would probably do it until I’m 70, at least,” he says.
In 1996, Smith took a sabbatical to learn more about bioethics, a topic that had piqued his interest. In 2000, he received a master’s degree in bioethics from Trinity International University, and each fall for almost 20 years taught a course in bioethics at Harding University.
“I knew we had to do something better,” says Smith.
He had met Sarah Harrington, medical director of the University of Arkansas Palliative Care Program for Medical Sciences, when she was a medical student. She helped him meet the rotation requirements with interdisciplinary palliative care teams.
He was 65 when he wrote the American Board of Internal Medicine exams in hospice and palliative medicine.
“Because we were grandfathered, we didn’t have to take re-certification exams,” Smith says of his contemporaries. “I hadn’t taken a board since 1977 and was taking my board exam again – luckily I passed it.”
He started the hospice program at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock and continues to practice there.
In 1985, Smith made a missionary trip to Haiti with his church, Pleasant Valley Church of Christ. Five years later, he helped found the nonprofit Haiti Christian Development Center, which promotes education and agricultural businesses, helps with water conservation and purification, and helps with problems. medical and health.
He spends part of each week focusing on the group’s efforts in Haiti.
People sometimes ask Smith why he still works instead of retiring so that he can travel or ride a bike.
“I have a ton of things that I love to do. I would be fine without it. But it’s one way I can minister. It suits me just fine right now,” Smith says. “When Linda’s health and mine break, I will have to leave him and continue. It will be sad, but I have truly been blessed. I am one of the luckiest happy guys, and a lot of the guys in my house. age are not so happy. “
If you know an interesting story about an Arkansan 70 or older, please call (501) 425-7228 or email:[email protected]