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VA Researchers Who Served: Dr. C. Scott Smith

Boise VA Medical Center

June 21, 2018

Dr. C. Scott Smith
Dr. C. Scott Smith

Dr. C. Scott Smith

Dr. C. Scott Smith, an Air Force Veteran, is the head of the general internal medicine division at the Boise VA Medical Center in Idaho. He supervises and mentors young physicians. He joined the faculty of the Boise VA in 1990 and is also a professor of medicine and an adjunct professor of biomedical informatics and medical education at the University of Washington. He has written more than 50 peer-reviewed papers and has given more than 30 presentations on clinic improvement, medical education, and inter-professional training. In 2014, he received VA’s David M. Worthen Award, which is presented by the Office of Academic Affiliations to employees who have shown innovations in academic excellence.

What motivated you to join the military?

Service to country has been a tradition in my family. My father was a tank commander in the Korean War. The military was a wonderful way for him to complete college though the GI Bill and for me to pay for medical school through the Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program.

What inspired your research career?

I wanted a deeper understanding of how teaching and learning work in health care. I found myself wanting to get better at teaching the patient-care skills I had learned. This didn’t always work, so I got interested in what teaching methods work the best and why. I found a lot of helpful materials but also gaps that needed to be filled.

Did you have mentors who inspired you in life, the military, or your research career?

In life, it was my father. In research, it was Dr. Kelly Skeff, creator and director of Stanford University’s faculty development program, and Dr. David Irby. He chaired the medical education program at the University of Washington, before becoming vice dean for medical education at the University of California, San Francisco. I earned my medical degree at the University of Washington in 1980 and my clinical teaching certificate at Stanford in 1993.

When and where did you serve in the military? Describe your military experience.

I was in the Air Force from 1981 to 1985. I served as chief of primary care in the hospital at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York. We cared for about 10,000 military personnel and their family members in the emergency department and in the primary care clinics.

What kinds of research are you involved in? How does it potentially impact Veterans?

My career has revolved around three main areas: graduate medical education, system redesign, and inter-professional education. My scholarly work in graduate medical education has focused on ambulatory curriculum. I’m always seeking better ways to do inter-professional teaching, in which students gain practical experience in a variety of professions, and to making team-based care more efficient and useful for Veterans. Currently, I’m the national physician consultant to the VA Centers of Excellence in Primary Care Education (CoEPCE). VA’s Office of Academic Affiliations created CoEPCE in 2011 to foster inter-professional training for team-based care.  We focus on shared decision making, inter-professional collaboration, sustained relationships, and performance improvement.

Did your military experience inspire you to pursue a career as a VA researcher? Is your military experience connected in some way to your VA research?

My military experience opened doors of opportunity for getting double-boarded in internal medicine and emergency medicine. This, in turn, led me to an academic career.

How do you feel about the possibility of making life better for Veterans through your research?

I love seeing that the people we teach do a better job of providing care to our Veterans. The Veterans deserve it, and the people we train get so much more satisfaction by doing a good job.

Does being a Veteran give you a greater emotional tie to the work you’re doing or more insight into Veterans’ needs?

It does both to a certain extent. However, my father was a Veteran, so I think that has actually been more impactful in connecting me with other Veterans. My father saw action in the Battle of Pork Chop Hill during the Korean War. I believe he came back with PTSD, but back then the troops ignored it, and VA didn’t really recognize it.

Based on your life experiences to date, what do you believe are the keys to success? What motivational tips would you share?

Never pass up an opportunity. No matter how disconnected they seem, all opportunities lead to doing your job better. Also, follow your passion. The best job is the one you wake up and look forward to doing on most days. Most people aren’t that lucky.

What’s the next step for you in your VA career?

Retirement on June 23, 2018, after 33 years of federal service!

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