Four generations of Dr. Kathleen Jane Smith's family have an affiliation with Littleton Regional Healthcare (LRH). Kate's mother (Clara Salway) trained as a registered nurse (RN) at the Littleton Hospital School of Nursing, and graduated in the last class of students at the school in 1934. Her grandfather, who worked primarily at the Saranac Glove Company, drove a horse-drawn carriage for Drs. Parker and Abbott when their patients required house calls. Today, Dr. Smith's niece, Sadie Starring, is a registered nurse at Littleton Regional.
After graduation from Littleton High School, Kate attended Bennington College in Vermont and graduated with a major in Natural Sciences with an emphasis in chemistry. She moved to Seattle and worked as a lab tech in the Zoology Department at the University of Washington. Kate did not always know that becoming a physician was in her future, although early-on, she was exposed to the medical profession. Her mother, a nurse, had deep admiration and respect for doctors. Also, Kate had repeated exposure to medical care and post op recovery due to prolonged treatment for scoliosis. Spending an entire year in a full body cast gave Kate, the scientist, a great deal of time to keenly observe her care and develop a fascination for the medical profession. In addition, reading a Dartmouth Medical School student's textbooks further captured Kate's curiosity. Persuaded by her good friend, Peggy, Kate applied to the University of Washington School of Medicine. The School accepted her as one of ten women in a class of 100 medical students. Kate loved all of her experiences, and upon graduation from medical school in 1976, she was unclear on a choice for internship and residency. She tried Internal Medicine and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, finally settling on a Family Medicine residency at the University of Kentucky. Once Kate finished residency, she practiced in Pennsylvania for two years where she met and married her husband, Jeff.
In 1984 Kate and Jeff moved to Littleton where Kate sustained a private practice from 1984 to 2009. Dr. Smith cites the time when Dr. Virginia Alvord became her practice partner in 1997 as the best of times, professionally. In 2009, they sold their practice to LRH, where Kate practiced as an employed LRH physician until 2012. Kate is very proud and thankful for the opportunity to establish a medical practice with Dr. Alvord where she was able to detect illnesses and refer patients for treatment, thus saving lives. She says "preventative medicine was my passion and my pride. I knew that I was doing good by fostering prevention and doing my best to detect disease while it was still in the early stages."
Kate greatly admired Harry McDade, MD. In reference to Harry, she said he was "the great general surgeon who would never compromise on quality of care, and held the patient's welfare above all. He had such lofty ethical standards, in my opinion, that he was the proverbial "rising tide raising all ships" for the rest of us. He did not hesitate to speak his mind in no uncertain terms, if he saw a medical staff or hospital decision that might damage quality of care."
As Dr. Smith reflects on the challenges of today's healthcare, she cites the transition from private practice to practicing as a hospital employee and the use of the computerized medical record as barriers to establishing and maintaining good communication with patients. Also, when a physicians' patients are admitted to the hospital, a clinician known as a "hospitalist" oversees their care. Although this increases efficiencies, it creates professional isolation, and diminishes the all-important patient-physician relationship. Dr. Smith wants people to remember that LRH was formed in 1906 when physicians recognized that the whole community needed a hospital in the Littleton area. "The physicians were affiliated only by their common concern for the patient good, and everyone worked to that end."
Now that Dr. Smith no longer sees patients in the practice setting, she is very engaged in gardening, knitting, and beekeeping. And... she is still fascinated by all things medical, participating in online courses such as immunology and neuroanatomy.
Personal interview, January 2019