Life and Times of Leading Cardiologists With Rob Califf. Guest: Sidney Smith

Robert M. Califf, MD; Sidney C. Smith, Jr., MD


December 11, 2013

In This Article

Discovering Cardiology

Dr. Califf: Were any other key memories from medical school important? How did you decide to go into medicine and cardiology as opposed to public health or something else?

Dr. Smith: I was not interested in public health then. I am now, but at that time I was interested in surgery and internal medicine. I decided on internal medicine.

I went to Brigham and Women's Hospital for my residency and internship residency. The first year there, I talked with Francis Moore, who was head of surgery. He had done a medical internship, and he had me lined up to go into surgery. Dick Gorlin came back and said, "I think you would be happy in cardiology. We have this new procedure; we are doing cut-downs on the brachial artery, and you are manipulating a catheter. Why don't you take a look?"

So I ended up in cardiology working with him and Edmund Sonnenblick. Around 1968 or so, everybody who I had worked with at NIH seemed to go to San Diego -- Braunwald, Ross, and Sobel. An incredible group went out there, except Ed Sonnenblick, who came north with William Parmley. They came up to Brigham, so I ended up working with Sonnenblick with a Millar micromanometer, looking at Vmax, which didn't pan out, and doing myocardial blood flow with Dick Gorlin.

Dr. Califf: It's amazing how you transition in a career. You were really focused on intricate, invasive work.

Dr. Smith: They were very interested in my background in lipoproteins, so I had to move away from that because it was clear that I did not want to do that for the rest of my life. I had been interested in it. The catheterization lab was paradise for somebody with an engineering degree who enjoyed doing things.

Dr. Califf: It is funny you mention that. My youngest son did engineering at Duke and was in the middle of his fourth year, and then he had some kind of experience and decided he wanted to be a doctor. I tried to talk him out of it, but I made the mistake of taking him to the Heart Rhythm Society to see what it was like. It's like a complete party for engineers and doctors for the same reason: You are able to manipulate things and deal with technology. That must have been a lot of fun.

Dr. Smith: It was.

A Social Life?

Dr. Califf: What about social life? As a football star, a track guy, and a doctor, you must have had a lot of girlfriends along the way.

Dr. Smith: One problem was at that time, Virginia Tech was an all-male school. When I went to Yale, we took road trips up to Smith or to Vassar. We were kept away from women, but somehow we always managed to find an opportunity for the social side on the weekends. In that environment during the week, I was working out, playing ball, and going to classes. There were no women around, so that wasn't a distraction. The testosterone levels were high, and you could argue that it was unreal that we only escaped on weekends. It was a different era, from the way it is now that schools such as Duke and Stanford are coed.

Dr. Califf: On the other hand, I noticed that our state legislature just passed a law that outlaws coed dormitories in the UNC system. So maybe it is going back to the good old days.

Wife and Kids

Dr. Califf: When you travel, you are well known for your wife being with you all the time. It's a great thing to see a couple. When did you meet?

Dr. Smith: We met in Boston. When I left Yale, people told me, "Be sure to look up Lucy Owens; she is a great tennis player, and we think you will like her." So I called her and lined up a date. Those were the days when you were on 36 hours and off 12.

I had a little Triumph TR4 with a broken gas gauge -- they had these Lucas Industries electronics -- it was not a good car. So I was frequently running out of gas. I was late, and I knew I had a choice of either going for it or stopping to get gas and being late. So I went for it, ran out of gas, and we ended up playing one set, which she won the first time around. Then we went out and had beer in Cambridge, and that was the beginning.

Dr. Califf: Has she always accompanied you in the way that she does now? You are a striking couple on the international travels.

Dr. Smith: I like for her to be with me, but she doesn't always go. Many of the trips are just a day; I go in and get out. She calls that insane, so she chooses her trips. But, yes, it's nice.

Dr. Califf: Do you have children? What are they up to?

Dr. Smith: We have 2. Our son, who majored in engineering, got a business degree at the Northwestern Business School, and then stayed there in Chicago, and met his wife. We have a daughter who is in theater; she is a director. After Columbia, she started a theater group in Manhattan and now lives out in La Jolla.

Dr. Califf: Do you have grandchildren?

Dr. Smith: We have 4.


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