Doing Whatever It Takes to Help Patients Heal
By Dawn Robinette
Photography by David Teran
Like most called to the medical profession, Dr. Kirsten Smith has a passion for serving others. “Whenever I take on a challenge, I commit to doing whatever it takes to get the best result for everyone involved. I value my connections in life and
try to remind those in my life that they are important to me.”
During her 2017 run for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Woman of the Year, she took the boy and girl of the year to the San Antonio Zoo, her “happy place,” and a behind the scenes visit with Bubba, one of the zoo’s beloved Komodo dragons. “Getting them bitten by Bubba wouldn’t have been the best campaign move, so I told the kids not to make any sudden movements,” she laughs. The kids survived and she raised $197,869 in 10 short weeks.
The Hyperbaric and Wound Director of Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at Methodist Hospital, Dr. Smith is Board Certified in General Surgery, yet wound care is her passion. “I love the camaraderie of being in the operating room. But one of the things I love about wound care is that you make relationships with the patients and get to know their families. You get to take care of them and make them better.
“A lot of these patients don’t even know that there’s even the option of wound care, and they’ve been struggling with whatever their issue is for a very long time before they ever make it to us. It’s so satisfying when those patients say, ‘I wish I’d seen you sooner.’ We’re able to turn things around that they’ve been dealing with for months or even years. I just keep working at it until we get those wounds to heal.
“No two wounds are the same. It’s an art form really, and there’s no textbook for exactly what to do. If it’s getting better, you continue, and you make adjustments here and there. If it’s not getting better, you start over fresh and find a new approach. But I never give up.” That tenacity is how she tackles challenges. “I just ignore them. A friend told me that I overcome challenges by subconsciously laughing at them as if they don’t exist. I am not sure that is completely true, but I never give up. I just keep going.”
It shows in her patient care. “I take pride in making sure that patients are treated in the way that I would want to be treated, or I would treat my family member. I can’t turn it off. I will do everything that I can to make sure that they get the best care.
“Try to live your life doing no harm to others and try to help others in everything that you do. Any victory that comes at someone else’s expense is not worth it.”
Her dedication makes work-life balance tough. “I don’t balance it,” she admits. “I make time for my friends and family, but I haven’t taken a lot of time for myself. That is probably one of my biggest failures – I’m not very good at balancing the two.”
To fix that, she’s started to spoil herself more. “At the beginning of the pandemic, I decided that I need something bright in my life when I come home from work after a long day. So every two weeks, I have a floral arrangement delivered to myself. I think it’s been a really great thing and more people should do it.” She also enjoys working on her art collection, a hobby that has grown into what she laughingly calls a weakness. “You don’t have to have a large budget to enjoy local art. During COVID, when I know a lot of these artists have been struggling, my way of supporting them is to continue to buy more and more art. My house is completely full!”
She’s also continued to find ways to connect with family and friends. “Not being able to see everyone as much as I would like, I have been sending “quarantine gifts” as reminders that I care and am thinking about the ones I love. I always try to look beyond the surface and the good in everyone.”
Caring for patients, caring for family and friends, and supporting the community flows from Smith’s personal philosophy. “The first day of medical school, we all take the Hippocratic Oath. ‘First, do no harm.’ I think that applies not just in medicine but in everything.
Try to live your life doing no harm to others and try to help others in everything that you do. Any victory that comes at someone else’s expense is not worth it.