By Paul McMullen
The Catholic Review visits with Dr. Thomas B. Smyth, CEO of University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center and parishioner of St. Isaac Jogues, Carney
CR: What, and where, are your Catholic roots?
Smyth: My grandparents, Marion and Henry Knott and Mary and Joseph Smyth, were individuals of great faith. They instilled that faith in my parents, Patricia and J. Walter Smyth, M.D. Ours was a big Irish/German family of eight children, and our parish was St. Mary’s in Govans, where I served as an altar boy along with my four brothers. I also served novena with Father Willie Driscoll at Loyola College, which was a few blocks from our home. I attended Calvert Hall College High School, where the Christian Brothers instilled a distinct LaSallian flavor into my life that I carry to this day.
CR: Describe a time when you most relied on your faith.
Smyth: In July 2007, I was inflicted with Guillian-Barre, an autoimmune illness that attacked the insulation around my nerves, which caused me to become paralyzed from the neck down in a quick 24 hours.
As I lay in the ICU Bed 2 at UM St. Joseph, I could see a crucifix on the wall across the way. Every night I prayed the rosary, often forgetting my place because I could not use my fingers. I implored God and our Lord to help me survive and recover. I have never felt my faith as deeply as I did during those critical days and the weeks that followed as my body recovered.
CR: How has faith helped shape your medical career?
Smyth: We are human beings long before we become physicians. Growing up in a Catholic family, I was taught about the healing nature of our Lord. There is a unique spirit of compassion and caring that is imbued in us by our spiritual faith. I have always felt that it is a remarkable privilege to become a doctor and combine those unique skills with the characteristics that are taught by Jesus in the Gospel to help others during difficult situations. It is a powerful combination.
CR: How has your career impacted your faith?
Smyth: That’s a complicated question, but let me say this: from the time that I was in medical school at Johns Hopkins, my patients and their families have taught me so much. Being a part of their lives, observing them as they employ their faith to gather the strength to navigate their health care challenges has deepened my understanding of the tremendous power of faith to heal, calm and provide comfort during extremely difficult situations.
CR: What defines a Catholic hospital?
Smyth: The mission of any Catholic hospital should be to deliver high-quality health care services to all in an environment infused with faith and a deep sense of mission to serve the entire community. A Catholic hospital should not only treat the patient’s body but also their mind and spirit. At UM SJMC, we have coined the phrase: “loving service and compassionate care.” It’s what truly differentiates us.
While the religious symbols are important and respected in our institution, it goes much deeper. There is an undercurrent that guides everything we do, and I believe that undercurrent is the Holy Spirit. We’ve remained true to our Catholic heritage because our physicians, nurses and staff actively commit to serve our community with love and compassion every single day. Our Catholic faith has no doubt guided us through difficult decisions and times.
CR: Favorite saint?
Smyth: St. Mark. That’s my confirmation name, and his Gospel focuses on the ministry of Jesus.
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