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Robert Smith, PhD
Robert Smith, PhD

Dr. Smith is the associate chair for administration in the Department of Neurology. Born and raised in Pulaski, Virginia. Dr. Smith earned his B.A. in Sociology – Race & Human Relationships, A.A.S. – Respiratory Therapy Technology, M.Ed., in Educational Psychology, Ph.D. in Evaluation with a focus on Leadership Skill Acquisition in the Healthcare Setting.

UPDATE: As of February 2022, Dr. Smith is transitioning into a new role as the Vice Dean of Gillings School of Public Health.

Why this career path and why did you choose to work at UNC?

I have a passion for taking care of patients directly and now indirectly.  I practiced as a Respiratory Therapist for two decades.  During this time, I worked in adult care but the lion’s share of my time was spent as a neonatal and pediatric specialist. A mentor literally plucked me from the bedside and placed me into a hospital administrative role that altered my career trajectory, placing me on an administrative path. One of my mentors moved down to Chapel Hill and sent me several UNC job announcements that piqued my interest. I applied to the positions, came down to interview and the rest is history.

Did you go to college/graduate school with the intention of getting the job you have now? If not, explain how you came to the position you’re in now at the university. Any other jobs lead you here?

I did not go to school with the intention of being a practice manager.  Opportunities where presented to me in this space and I found myself drawn to supporting the delivery of care as opposed to delivering care.

What was your college/graduate experience been like in general?

I enjoyed all of my years in the classroom.  I had some of the most gifted professors and they made learning fun.  More importantly, they taught me how to think, critical thinking.  There was added pressure in that I was a minority at a predominately-white institution and there were “conservative” edifices that made that which is basic to the majority challenging to the minority.

Were you a first generation or low-income college student? If so, what was that like for you? (For example: Did your family encourage getting a higher degree? Did you always feel like you would be able to get into or “make it” in college? Did you have a good support system in college? How did you overcome any obstacles that may have prevented your from obtaining a Ph.D.?)

I was definitely a low-income student.  However, I grew up in an environment that was rich in support, love and encouragement.  Honesty, integrity and a strong work ethic were attributes that were woven into the fabric of my formative years.   My mother called me “Doc” from a very early age so I guess you can say she spoke it into reality.  No doubt!  There were certainly obstacles that made my path to a PhD difficult.  However, I viewed them as opportunities for “enhanced success” and my faith informed how I moved forward and overcame.

Do you have any advice about the college/medical school/post graduate/ neurology experience that you would offer to students who intend to go to graduate school in order to obtain a doctorate degree/other career path?

My advice is simple and perhaps frequently stated in some form or another.  Select a career such that when you return home in the evenings, you look in the mirror and think, “I cannot believe I get paid to do this.” In my world, working in your gifting is not work, it is a blessing.

What elements of DEI are most important to you and your career?

My parents instilled in me the ability to look beyond differences and focus on similarities.  I have a saying “In order to understand that which you do not understand, you must spend time with that which you do not understand.” Therefore, I am drawn to the unknown and deliberately endeavor to understand that which is foreign to me.  Thus, in the parlance of DEI tenets, I would say my desire to be inclusive from all areas within my sphere of influence is that which drives me / is most important to me.