March 24, 2020

Vanderbilt mourns loss of former Anesthesiology chair Bradley E. Smith, MD

Bradley E. Smith, MD, former professor and chair of the Vanderbilt’s Department of Anesthesiology, died March 20 in Nashville after a long battle with cancer. He was 86.


by Nancy Humphrey

Bradley E. Smith, MD, former professor and chair of the Vanderbilt’s Department of Anesthesiology, died March 20 in Nashville after a long battle with cancer. He was 86.

Bradley E. Smith, MD

Dr. Smith came to Vanderbilt in 1969 as chair of the department and left the post in 1993. At the time he was the longest-serving anesthesiology chair at a U.S. medical school.

During more than four decades of practice and leadership in the specialty, Dr. Smith set the foundation and trajectory for the department to be a national and international leader in anesthesiology and pain, critical care and perioperative medicine.

Through his tenure, Dr. Smith directed a sixfold increase in both the number of faculty and residents, and in clinical workload. He directed the establishment of the region’s first Anesthesiology Biomedical Engineering Division, Tennessee’s first full-time Critical Care Team and Nashville’s first Pain Management Clinic.

In his time as chair, the department graduated 271 anesthesiology residents, and four who earned doctorates of philosophy, while 14 master’s degrees were awarded to anesthesiology trainees. The department also published more than 500 peer-reviewed papers and the faculty grew to nine fully tenured professors (including four former Vanderbilt University Anesthesiology residents.

“Dr. Smith was a luminary in the field of anesthesiology and led vital efforts to expand anesthesiology services at VUMC for nearly a quarter-century. His contributions as chair came at a time when VUMC experienced remarkable advances in the ways we could support patients having surgery and were in need of pain relief. I want to express my sympathy to his daughter Ione and other members of his family,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Dr. Smith earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tulsa in 1953 and his medical degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1957. He completed his anesthesiology residency at the U.S. Naval Hospital in New York City in 1960.

From there, he completed a research fellowship and obstetric anesthesia fellowship at Columbia University, Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. After serving in the Navy, he was on the faculty at Yale University and then the University of Miami before joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 1969.

In 2009, in light of his many accomplishments, a lectureship was established in his name by then department chair Michael Higgins, MD.

“Dr. Smith was clinically active for a third of the modern era of Anesthesiology, and a Chair for one quarter of that era. His influence was enormous. He championed the establishment of subspecialties in anesthesiology and was an early proponent of electronic health records. Under his leadership, VUMC developed anesthesiologists who went on to become chairs at other influential programs. He was a giant in the field,” said Warren Sandberg, MD, PhD, professor and chair the Department of Anesthesiology and professor of Surgery and Biomedical Informatics.

At the state and national level, Dr. Smith was president of the Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology (SOAP), the Society for Computers in Anesthesia (SCIA), and the Tennessee Society of Anesthesiologists (TSA). He was one of the longest serving directors of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) and was general chairman of the 1996 ASA Convention.

During his career, he served in various roles for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Formulary, the National Research Council, the American Board of Anesthesiologists, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the American Heart Association, and other bodies. Additionally, Dr. Smith was instrumental in the national movement toward creating anesthesiology subspecialties, as well as an early proponent of electronic medical records.

Dr. Smith retired clinically in 2008, but still maintained his interests in medicine and anesthesiology. After retirement he received a Paul Wood Fellowship and served as a Trustee of the Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology and served as a contributing editor for Tennessee Medicine and for the Obstetric Anesthesia Digest. He also served on the Council of Mentors of the Anesthesia History Association.

Dr. Smith was married to Gretchen Basore Smith for 65 years. He had two children, Ione Lake and Bradley Gordon Smith. He is survived by his daughter Ione.