Dr. Robert S. Smith was born in Mexico, a son of a hard-working and savvy Mexican immigrant family that changed its name from Ramirez to Smith in order to get better employment in an earlier generation. His contribution to the health of the Latino community in Texas and around the U.S. has been noteworthy.
Smith enlisted in the U. S. Coast Guard then attended the University of California at Davis Physician Assistant program, graduated and received his PA Certificate in 1990. He has worked for the Latino community since then and empowered PAs everywhere to serve the Latino population nationwide and in Canada. He initiated an outreach for Latino health to the Canadian Minister of Public Health by inviting him to lecture about disparities at the AAPA Conference.
One of Dr. Smith’s notable achievements was as one of the founders of the caucus of Physician Assistants of Latino Heritage. The purpose was to give Latino PAs a collective voice in the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) to ensure that health disparities of the Latino community were addressed and that PAs could be more culturally competent in caring for the Latino community at large. With Smith’s input, the title, “Physician Assistants of Latino Heritage” became “The Physician Assistants for Latino Health” in 1994 in order to encompass all those who wanted to further good delivery of care to this underserved population. He was president of PALH for many years, and is currently treasurer.
Dr. Smith served as chair of the AAPA Minority Affairs Committee, and championed the term, “Asociado Medico” as the official translation of “Physician Assistant” in Spanish at the House of Delegates (HOD). PALH has been in the forefront of attempting to have the Medical Practice Act of Puerto Rico amended and has used this term in their legislative efforts. Another of Smith’s major accomplishments was the establishment of the Caucus Congress. He attended the open forum of the AAPA Board of Director and requested that caucuses have a direct voice in AAPA via the House of Delegates to express their views, issues, and concerns. The Speaker of the House, Bill Kohlhepp, approached Dr. Smith with the concept of establishing a Caucus Congress similar to what had been done for Specialty groups with the possibility of a pathway for individual caucuses to gain representation in the House. The Caucus Congress was subsequently established with individual representation at the HOD in 2013.
Dr. Smith’s work as a Latino physician assistant leader established an important link with the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), a physician group led by Dr. Elena Rios. This action has been the basis for increased utilization of physician assistants by the providers who serve the Latino community. The NHMA’s mission is similar to that of PALH: to serve the health needs of the Latino community. Smith’s work with the group ensures a voice in NHMA. As a result, the American Academy of Physician Assistants now has had a liaison to the organization. Smith was appointed liaison for the 2015-18 term.
Most recently Dr. Smith brokered a partnership with AAPA and Canopy (a leading company in teaching Medical Spanish) with the thought of encouraging mainstream PAs to learn Spanish to ensure that PAs were at the cutting edge of providing effective care to the ever-increasing numbers of Spanish-speaking patients throughout the US. The Canopy Program, a Rosetta-Stone type program, utilizes medical phrases for provider education and teaches cultural competencies to health care providers. The program is available online through the partnership of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, PAs for Latino Health, and the National Certification of Bilingual Healthcare Providers (NCBHP) to provide PAs and others with resources to use Medical Spanish in their practice via the AAPA website. The American Medical Association is involved with independent testing.
Dr. Smith has served in various positions in the Texas Academy of Physician Assistants (TAPA) and was directly involved with the process of Texas PAs obtaining licensure. He was President during the second expansion of licensure rules that gave Texas PAs the authority to prescribe controlled substances.
Dr. Smith was awarded his Doctorate in Health Sciences, with Specialty in Organizational Behavior and Leadership degree from A.T. Still University in 2017. He is currently working on completing a Graduate Certificate in Education.
Acknowledgments: This Biographical Sketch was prepared by Maryann F. Ramos, MPH, PA, in collaboration with Robert S. Smith, and submitted to the Society on October 31, 2015 and updated August 15, 2017.