Jan Smith was the ‘conscience and soul’ of anesthesiology department

Jan Smith in hospital scrubs

Jan Smith — likely the longest-serving faculty member in the School of Medicine’s Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, who worked in the greatest number of Pitt and UPMC medical facilities locally and worldwide — died Sept. 6, 2019.

His departmental colleague Mark Hudson says Smith “was always considered the conscience and soul of the department.”

Jan Daniel Smith was born on Feb. 6, 1939 in Pretoria, South Africa. He earned his medical degree from the University of Pretoria School of Medicine in 1961. He interned at McCord Hospital, Durban (an American mission hospital) and took additional training in pediatrics, internal medicine and anesthesia in Durban’s Addington and King Edward VIII Hospitals

In 1964, Smith joined the anesthesiology residency program at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston, then completed both a critical care and a pulmonary fellowship at Pitt.

In 1969, he began internal medicine training at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa, then returned to Pitt in 1971 to finish this training and join the University faculty.

Smith moved to the University of Iowa College of Medicine’s pulmonary division in 1974; to the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio in 1976 as a pulmonologist and then in both anesthesiology and internal medicine; to the chairmanship in anesthesiology at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in 1983; and to the Northeastern Ohio University College of Medicine in 1985.

In 1987, he returned to Pitt and was appointed chief of anesthesiology at UPMC Presbyterian, 1988-1996. During his sabbatical year of 1994, he earned a diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene from the Royal College of Physicians.

In the years that followed, Smith’s roles shifted with the expansion of UPMC. He became chief of anesthesiology and medical director at UPMC Beaver Valley until 2000, when he moved to help develop ISMETT, the UPMC transplant and major surgical center in Sicily. He returned to the Pitt campus in 2002 as vice chair for clinical operations until his retirement in 2006 as professor of anesthesiology, internal medicine and critical care medicine.

As an emeritus, Smith continued his association with the department as a volunteer teacher and, in 2009, assisted with the development of UPMC Beacon Hospital in Dublin, Ireland, as its associate medical director. Volunteering as a teacher in sub-Saharan Africa, he also was appointed an Extraordinary Professor of Medicine at the University Pretoria School of Medicine.

In 2011, the Allegheny County Medical Society recognized his 50 years of service with its Award for Volunteer Work, and in 2013, his department’s Education Office named a classroom in his honor.

“Jan has been a presence in the department and participated even after his retirement with mentoring,” recalled Hudson, who first joined UPMC under Smith’s leadership and eventually took over for Smith as vice chair for clinical operations in 2006.

At ISMETT, Hudson said, “Jan was instrumental in the creation of the academic environment for the institution,” while Hudson aided with the clinical staff. Smith used his love of travel for good, Hudson said, “helping to improve the medical care in many places. He was a remarkable gentleman anesthesiologist” who excelled at “establishing relationships in a very thoughtful way.” He called Hudson’s group of Pitt anesthesiologists “the generation that really established the anesthesiology department.”

Smith’s expertise was centered on pulmonary medicine, lung injury, patient safety issues and critical care medicine applications. The departmental classroom was named in his honor, Hudson explained, because Smith “really influenced the educational program for our residents.”

“He and his wife were some of the most generous, genuine people I have known,” Hudson added. “He was just a genuinely friendly, thoughtful person. Everyone loved him.”

Jennifer Branik, executive assistant to the chair and vice chair of the anesthesiology department and Smith’s right-hand person for the past 17 years, recalled him as “the historian for the department … doing essentially anything that was asked of him.

“He was absolutely one of a kind,” she continued. “He was a class act and in my personal opinion he was thoughtful, caring, and probably the most generous man you’d meet in your life. He made an appreciable difference in people’s lives, both personally and professionally. He was the consummate man and the consummate professional.”

Smith is survived by his wife of 56 years, Jeanette Niemeyer Smith, and three children, Robert (Kathy Van Stone), Andrew (Sandra Espinosa) and Anita (Dr. Andrew Murray) and nine grandchildren. 

Memorial gifts are suggested to Baptist Homes Foundation, 500 Providence Point Blvd., Pittsburgh, PA 15243 or the Salvation Army.

— Marty Levine