Born in rural Dothan, Alabama during the 1950’s, Dr. Wally R. Smith had early experience with the indignities suffered by African-Americans in the rural South. Dirt roads, poverty, and misfortune surrounded him. However, Dr. Smith had strong role models in his grandfather, a cotton farmer and mechanic, and his parents, who were first-generation college graduates and teachers. Their example instilled in him a deep desire for a better life for his family.
After graduation from high school in 1973, Dr. Smith received his bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Harvard University and would then return to Alabama to attend the University of Alabama School of Medicine, completing his medical doctorate in 1981. He went on to complete an Internal Medicine internship at UAB, and a residency and 5 years of service at the University of Tennessee in Memphis. He joined Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA in 1991 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine, where he has remained to this day. Dr. Smith currently serves as a Professor and Vice-Chair of the Division of Internal Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth where he also directs the adult sickle cell disease program and is the Scientific Director of the Center on Health Disparities.
Dr. Smith has risen to prominence as one of the nation’s top minority academicians. He has developed an international reputation as a clinical investigator and health services researcher, predominately in the fields of health disparities and sickle cell diseases. He is widely regarded as one of the leading clinical experts on pain management in adults with sickle cell diseases, often providing guidance to less experienced subspecialists with formal training in Hematology. He was the primary investigator for the Pain in Sickle Cell Epidemiology Study, which established the frequency of chronic pain in sickle cell disease. This study resulted in multiple publications and re-defined the urgency for improved therapies for this patient population. Dr. Smith has also been involved in trials of hydroxyurea, various pain management regimens, and patient navigators. He has been a model to all aspiring minority health care workers, bringing relief in the process to adults with sickle cell disease all over the state of Virginia.
He is a member of the inaugural class of Robert Wood Johnson Generalist Physician Faculty Scholars, one of only 15 in the nation. He has obtained funding for and directs VCU’s Institutional National Research Service Award (NRSA) Program for generalist physicians, called the Primary Care Physician Scholars Program, one of about 20 in the nation.
Dr. Smith and his wife, Yvonne “Peaches”, live in Richmond, VA where they raised their three children Tiffany, Jonathan, and Blair.
He was nominated for this award by Dr. Vandy Black.