This week's Faculty Spotlight shines on Brian Smith, MD, MPH, MHS, associate professor of pediatrics in the Division of Neonatology and Quantitative Sciences. Smith talks to us about his research as principal investigator of the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Coordinating Center. He also discusses his perception of the greatest challenges and opportunities in the field of neonatology. He talks about his two greatest mentors—Ron Goldberg and Danny Benjamin and offers some valuable advice for trainees.
How long have you been at Duke? How did you decide to come here?
I started at Duke in 2001 as an intern in Pediatrics. I put Duke at the top of my residency match list because someone I knew from my hometown was finishing her residency at Duke and had a great experience.
What are your current responsibilities within the Department of Pediatrics? What does your typical day look like?
I lead clinical research projects at the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI). These projects include trials and coordinating centers. Most of my research involves Skype/Zoom/WebEx meetings with investigators within and outside of Duke and teams at DCRI for various projects. I also attend in the Duke Intensive Care Nursery.
How and when did you initially become interested in medicine and neonatology in particular?
Neonatology was my least favorite rotation as an intern. However, I really enjoyed the NICU rotations as a second and third year resident. I like the idea of being a “generalist” in the inpatient setting.
What do you see as the biggest current challenges and opportunities in the field of neonatology?
Neonatologists have done an excellent job in incorporating best practices to prevent hospital acquired infections. However, other important outcomes vary greatly by center because of huge differences in clinical practices. These practice differences are driven by lack of clinical research data and contribute to trial failures as the practice differences drown out the impact of study interventions.
Throughout your career, you have been extensively involved in research. Can you talk about some of your most recent projects?
I am Principal Investigator for the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Coordinating Center. This NIH-supported network is enrolling 50,000 children and their families from >70 existing pediatric cohorts in a single protocol. The focus of the network is to examine the effect of early childhood environmental exposures on child health outcomes.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The best part of my job is the people I work beside in the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine and at the DCRI.
Who was your most significant mentor and what knowledge did you gain through this collaboration?
I was fortunate to have several great mentors at Duke. The two with the greatest impact on my career were Ron Goldberg who talked me through my decision to go into neonatology, connected me with investigators at Duke during my fellowship, and supported my classwork at Duke and UNC. Danny Benjamin was/is my research mentor and provided me numerous opportunities through networks, trials, and projects at DCRI.
You completed your residency and fellowship at Duke--do you have any advice for trainees?
Good mentorship is critical, does not have to be in your scientific/clinical area, and may come from several sources.
What passions or hobbies do you have outside of Duke?
I love spending time with my family – wife Kristi, son Sawyer (11), and daughter Reese (9). I also play tennis poorly several times a week.