Paying It Forward: LSU Alumnus Dr. Charles M. Smith
Physician, veteran, community leader, and philanthropist—these are just a few of the hats worn by LSU alumnus Dr. Charles M. Smith. With a career that has spanned more that six decades, Dr. Smith has witnessed the “Golden Era” of medicine in the 40’s and 50’s, the end of the Korean war, and the evolution of modern-day medicine with tech savvy physicians and a more knowledgeable patient base due to the advent of web-based medical information.
The life of a 21st century doctor is a stark contrast to that of a physician in the 1950’s. Dr. Smith received his MD in 1955 from the LSU Medical School in New Orleans after earning a bachelor’s degree from LSU in 1951.
“In my day you had a family doctor who did many things in the practice of medicine, so we saw all manner of diseases. We didn’t have ER doctors and hospitalists, Dr. Smith said. “And, our days were pretty long. You really had to love medicine to be able to practice during my time. I don’t think I ever thought of my practice as real work. I was taking care of people that needed help. It was my calling.”
Born in Bogalusa, Louisiana, in 1930, Dr. Smith’s LSU experience began on the heels of the Korean War. He was among the thousands of able bodied 18-year old men required to sign up for the draft.
“If you had a good college record, you could receive a two-year military deferment to finish your studies, especially if you were in premed,” Dr. Smith said.
Dr. Smith spent two years in the in the US Air Force as a flight surgeon and settled in Sulphur, Louisiana, in 1959 where he opened a family medical practice that later expanded to include industrial medicine and chemical dependency.
“I was grateful to have a flagship institution in my state to prepare me for medical school. There were other schools in the state that were good schools, but I knew that LSU was the best place for me,” Dr. Smith said.
In 1975, Dr. Smith was elected coroner of Calcasieu Parish and held the office for more than 20 years. Highly respected as a skilled medical practitioner, he was also treasured for the kindness and care that he gave his patients and for his willingness to give back to his community and his alma mater.
However, it was seeing the damage caused by the improper use of radiation therapy and a rather dire medical diagnosis that helped inspire Dr. Smith’s philanthropy to LSU.
“In the 50’s and 60’s we would see patients with all types of diseases at varying stages and there were many times that I would see people with radiation damage. Some instances were so horrible that the radiation treatment was worse than the disease. Then, I was diagnosed with a rare tumor that I feel was cured after a combination of radiation treatment and surgery,” Dr. Smith said.
“I was so grateful for this outcome because my prognosis was very poor. It was my impression that radiation oncology prolonged my life and I saw that there was a need for this program at LSU.”
With this in mind, Dr. Smith, together with the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, established the first endowed chair in medical physics at LSU in 2006. Through this partnership and matching funds from the Louisiana Board of Regents Support Fund, a $1 million chair was created in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at LSU. The Dr. Charles M. Smith Chair of Medical Physics played a key role in the program achieving accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs Inc.
“This program is helping provide vital medical solutions to people in Louisiana. I thought this gift was ideal and so far, the program has been very successful,” Dr. Smith said. “With such great support, there is no limit to the future of the medical physics program at LSU.”
Currently, Wayne Newhauser, director of LSU’s medical physics program, holds the Smith Chair of Medical Physics. In this role, Newhauser has helped launch new innovations in medical radiation oncology incorporating 3D printing and modeling for more targeted treatment and care.
“I’ve had an opportunity to see such wonderful advancements in medicine and in the growth of the university and its programs. It has been a joy to witness LSU’s progress,” Dr. Smith said.
Over the last 60 years, Dr. Smith has been a consistent supporter of the LSU College of Science and a consummate advocate for giving to LSU. He is a charter member of the college’s Dean’s Circle and has served on the Dean’s Circle Executive Committee. He is also a member of the LSU Foundation’s Laureate Society and LSU’s 1860 Society. In recognition of his dedication to the College of Science, Dr. Smith was inducted into the college’s Hall of Distinction in 2009 and was recently inducted into the LSU Alumni Association Hall of Distinction.
“Today, publicly funded universities like LSU are having to overcome fiscal challenges to educate students from modest backgrounds like mine. The constant cuts to the budget are making it more difficult for LSU to meet its purpose, which is to educate the citizens of Louisiana. Knowing these challenges, I am grateful and excited to give back to the school that has given so much to me,” Dr. Smith said.