Massachusetts Medical Society: Member Making a Difference - Dr. Vincent C. Smith

Member Making a Difference - Dr. Vincent C. Smith

NICU Pioneer Champions Support for All Families and Opportunity for Every Physician

Dr. Vincent C. Smith
Dr. Vincent C. Smith

A graduate of Texas A&M University and Stanford University School of Medicine, Vincent C. Smith, MD, MPH, arrived in Massachusetts for residency training in pediatrics in the Boston Combined Pediatric Residency Program, then completing fellowships in neonatal-perinatal medicine and in health services research. He also earned a degree at Harvard School of Public Health in 2003.

Dr. Smith has been the division chief of Newborn Medicine at Boston Medical Center (BMC) since 2019 and Professor of Pediatrics at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine since 2021. He is a national leader in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), building upon his earlier research and advocacy to improve FASD prevention, diagnosis, and management. He is co-investigator on a $3 million Health Resources and Services Administration grant to work with BMC’s Grayken Center for Addiction to develop regional resources for the care and management of individuals with FASD and their families. Other professional interests include families affected by substance use, parental newborn intensive care unit (NICU) discharge readiness, and medical care for LGBTQ+-headed families.

Dr. Smith joined the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) in 1999 and quickly became involved in MMS committee work while still a resident. His portfolio and leadership roles have grown ever since. He is a current member of the Committee on Public Health and an advisor to the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Matters, after completing that committee’s term limit for membership. In 2016, he was appointed to the Task Force on Ensuring Representative Diversity in MMS Leadership Pathways, which led to the creation of the Minority Affairs Section (MAS). Dr. Smith now leads MAS as its chair. In these many roles, he is valued as a compassionate and respected leader who is attuned to all voices and supports all participants.

VS: What led you to neonatology and to your areas of expertise and advocacy within the field?

Dr. Smith: At the time I began residency, neonatology was not on my radar as a profession. After being a bit lost about what type of pediatrician I wanted to be, I turned to my former mentor, Dr. Melanie Kim, who helped me discover that I really loved babies. To me babies are magical. They will teach you a lot if you learn to listen to and understand them.

Working in the NICU, I became aware of the effects that substance and/or alcohol use could have on a baby and family. Given how common alcohol use is during pregnancy, I was surprised there was not more education about this subject in pediatric residency training. I wanted to make more pediatric medical providers aware. This led me to the Committee on Substance Use and Prevention at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and ultimately to becoming the AAP’s medical director for FASDS.

Another professional passion of mine is NICU discharge readiness. Working in the NICU, I was struck by how different the outcome could be for infants who seemed medically very similar. This led me to study how we help families in the NICU to care for their babies after discharge. I found a lot of room to improve how we prepare families to navigate that transition. I have published a lot on this subject and am now helping to develop national guidelines for NICU discharge planning and preparation for the transition to home. I educate NICUs both nationally and internationally on the topic so that families are more equipped to bring their infants home.

VS: What led you to focus on the needs of LGBTQ+-headed families in the NICU?

Dr. Smith: Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, this is near and dear to my heart. The makeup of American families is and has been changing, with more LGBTQ+ individuals becoming parents. Many medical providers are not trained or experienced with the unique needs and issues for LGBTQ+-headed families in a medical setting and may struggle with how to best support and provide care for them. Because of this, I encourage medical providers to be open and honest with families about wanting to provide them with the best care possible and to acknowledge that mistakes, gaffes, and faux pas may happen. Empower families to speak up when these occur and have it be a learning moment for the medical provider(s). Any time an LGBTQ+-headed family member perceives a mistake, apologize immediately and sincerely without being defensive. Families appreciate kindness and a genuine effort to provide them with “exceptional care without exception”— the BMC motto.

LGBTQ+-headed families have expressed gratitude for thoughtful, sensitive care. There are ever-increasing opportunities to improve how we care for all types of families in medical settings. Each family provides an opportunity to refine the care we provide.

VS: Within the MMS, what are your goals now as chair of the Minority Affairs Section [MAS]?

Dr. Smith: I would like to further the role of MAS as a forum for addressing the unique needs and concerns of underrepresented minority physicians and the delivery of health care to minority patients and communities. Through policies and initiatives, the Section is focused on providing career advancement and leadership opportunities for minority physicians and increasing participation and mentorship of underrepresented minority physicians and students. We will also engage with medical students and trainees to offer opportunities for student-led community-based initiatives focused on prioritized community and public health issues.

VS: What has been a highlight of your work with MAS to date?

Dr. Smith: As MAS vice chair, I worked with the exceptional Dr. Nidhi Lal, the former chair, and others to create the Underrepresented Physicians of Tomorrow Award.

VS: Has nearly 25 years of the MMS experience played a role in your development as a physician leader?

Dr. Smith: Absolutely. My residency and fellowship training helped me to develop as a clinician. My involvement with the MMS helped me develop as a leader. My knowledge of issues affecting medicine from a macro perspective grew astronomically as a member of the MMS House of Delegates. Topics covered on the Committee for Public health have increased my fund of knowledge. And I have met so many amazing people, some of whom helped me with my academic promotion. The MMS has been a great experience for me. The MMS does really important and cool things. I am honored to be a part of it.

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