Thomas Smith, M.D. (MED ’83)

Board member

(originally published in 2018)

Pediatric hematologist/oncologist, Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders

Children’s Hospital Colorado

Aurora, Colorado

Associate professor of pediatrics

Section of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology/BMT

University of Colorado

“Mayo surrounded me as a child, and its mission of providing the best care to every patient permeated my philosophy of life from an early age.”

  • Research fellowship: National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, Denver, Colorado
  • Fellowship: Pediatric hematology/oncology, Children’s Hospital Colorado and University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver
  • Residency: Pediatrics, North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Bowman-Gray School of Medicine, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  • Medical degree: Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota
  • Undergraduate degree: Michigan State University, Lansing
  • Native of: Rochester, Minnesota

Why did you decide to pursue medicine?

I grew up in Rochester, surrounded by Mayo Clinic, its doctors and employees, their children, science, breakthroughs and patients from other countries. Everyone associated with Mayo was extremely proud of Mayo and its mission to take care of patients.

I was undecided on a career throughout college. At one point I decided to pursue ornithology because I was interested in birds. My ornithology professor told me, “Find a job where you make some money. Then, for birding, hire someone like me on the weekends.”

In my junior year of college, I began to understand the great satisfaction of taking care of patients through good times and bad, and the excitement of the scientific research associated with a medical career.

Why did you train at Mayo Clinic?

Mayo exemplified the highest ideals of medicine — respect, compassion, teamwork, healing and innovation. While many organizations give lip service to these ideals, the employees at Mayo truly believed and lived these ideals — from Roy Baker, the elevator operator, to Dr. David Utz (U ’58), the world-famous chair of urology. People in Rochester don’t always realize the importance and uniqueness of every member of the Mayo team being proud of Mayo and their willingness to do whatever it takes to make things better.

What were your initial impressions of Mayo Clinic?

I think I first saw it out my front window when I was 4, and it looked big. I always remembered the statue of the man hanging off the wall of the Mayo Building. I went to reading hour at the public library when I was a child before the building became a Mayo Clinic School of Medicine facility. I had important events like my Eagle Scout final interview at the historical offices in the Plummer Building.

Mayo surrounded me as a child, and its mission of providing the best care to every patient permeated my philosophy of life from an early age.

How does Mayo Clinic influence your practice?

The best word to describe the Mayo Clinic influence is profound. I had the privilege of training with the true giants of Mayo Clinic. Dr. John Mayne (I ’53) taught me to listen closely to all patients because everyone has a story. Dr. Richard Reitemeier (I ’54) taught me the art of taking care of dying cancer patients. Dr. Robert Kyle (I ’59) helped me through the trials of research, and I published my first paper with him. Dr. Joseph Kiely (I ’53) taught me to end every patient interaction with the question, “Is there anything else I can do to help you?” I think about my mentors and use these lessons in my practice every day.

At Mayo, I became more knowledgeable, trained in medicine and able to pursue my medical training very well prepared. But I also became more compassionate, healing and focused on patient care. At my current institution, I’m on the Admissions Committee for medical students. I wear my Mayo Clinic tie in interviews with prospective students. I look for students who demonstrate respect, compassion, teamwork, excellence and innovation — all Mayo Clinic values.

What do you contribute to the Mayo Clinic Alumni Association?

I bring enthusiasm and a deep love and respect for Mayo Clinic. I hope to increase participation in the Alumni Association and work on programs where Mayo medical students interact with alumni during their training.

What do you do in your spare time?

I spend time with my wife and three children. My daughter is in her second year at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, and my son is applying to medical school next year. My other son sells advertising for podcasts in Los Angeles. My wife is a psychologist.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I’m an expert mountaineer. I have summited all of the 55 peaks in Colorado over 14,000 feet high and Mount Kilimanjaro. I’ll be climbing the Grand Teton this summer. And I’ve walked up the Assisi Heights hill in Rochester on more than one occasion. I also founded pediatric services at Samaritan House Homeless Shelter in Denver and served as a volunteer physician for 20 years. We had more than 200 nurses and doctors involved. It was deeply satisfying work.