When she started UB medical school, Beth Smith didn’t intend to become a psychiatrist.
By her fourth year, she couldn’t picture herself in another specialty.
She never considered a career in research, either. Yet thanks to a project that took root during her child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at UB, Smith has emerged as one of the country’s leading investigators studying depression in children with cystic fibrosis.
An associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry, Smith enjoys a career that owes its steep trajectory, in large part, to the dedicated mentoring she received throughout her education and training.
“Mentoring takes place on so many levels in psychiatry, and it’s very individualized to your interests,” says Smith, who is also the department’s director of pediatric consultation-liaison psychiatry.
“The faculty are always willing to share their knowledge, and they’re dedicated to helping you build on your strengths.”
Although Smith contemplated careers in pediatrics and dermatology, psychiatry surfaced as her clear preference during her third year of medical school.
“I started thinking about where I enjoyed my time the most, and where I saw professors and clinicians I most wanted to be like,” she says. “That was in psychiatry.”
Based on her medical school experience, Smith applied exclusively to UB for residency.
“I had no qualms about not applying anywhere else,” she says. “I thought: ‘Where better to train than in the community I want to one day practice in—and who better to teach me than these wonderful role models?’”
UB’s psychiatry residency exposed her to an extraordinarily diverse patient base, giving her training a distinct edge, Smith says.
“Some people may thinks it’s unusual not having a centralized hospital, but UB’s distributed hospital system provides you with such a strong educational experience.
“I went through a V.A. system, a freestanding children’s hospital, a psychiatry emergency room and an outpatient mental health walk-in clinic. I knew that whatever I chose to do in the future, I had a solid base to start from.”
During her child psychiatry fellowship at UB, Smith benefited from tailored training opportunities that laid the groundwork for her career.
When she expressed an interest in consultation-liaison psychiatry—a subspecialty focused on the overlap of physical and mental illness—Smith was invited to hone her skills by working closely with Bruce Miller, MD, chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
From there, Miller and professor Beatrice Wood, PhD, who together study the effect of childhood depression on asthma and other illnesses, encouraged Smith to complement her clinical focus with a multidisciplinary research project.
Under their mentorship, she received a pilot research award from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry to investigate how depression in children with cystic fibrosis impacts their adherence to treatment regimens.
One of the first studies of its kind, Smith’s project resulted in national presentations, papers in major journals and a cutting-edge research career that has grown exponentially.
“When people refer to these depression studies, I am one of the first researchers to get cited, which is gratifying,” she says.
As a thriving mid-level faculty member, Smith now pays it forward by mentoring residents, fellows and junior faculty. At the same time, she continues to benefit from her own mentors’ experience and guidance.
“In psychiatry, your mentors are dedicated to helping you achieve all of your goals. They want to know where you see yourself down the road, and what they can do to get you there. Their feeling is that when you succeed, they succeed.”