Fall 2010
Remembering George Smith

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Founders of the University of Nevada School of Medical Sciences

The founders of the University of Nevada School of Medical Sciences, circa 1970. From left to right are Ed Manville, Claude Howard, George Smith, M.D., and Fred Anderson, M.D. Photo courtesy Savitt Medical Library

George Smith, M.D., founding dean of the University of Nevada School of Medicine, passed away March 20, 2010.

By Anne McMillin, APR

It is difficult to describe adequately the contributions of the man who cajoled, persuaded, fought, and lobbied long and hard to establish this medical school back in the 1960s.

Smith came to Nevada to conduct cardiac research at the Desert Research Institute, and was subsequently asked to do a feasibility study on establishing a medical school for Nevada. He successfully sought and gained Gov. Paul Laxalt’s support for the fledgling school and solicited funding from large foundations on the East Coast.

“The first years I was in Nevada, I spent pounding the streets to raise the $10 million that was necessary to open the doors to the school,” he said last fall. “And if the pickings are tough now, they were even tougher at that particular point in time.”

Smith recalled the circumstances that led to Howard Hughes pledging $6 million to establish the Nevada medical school. “I remember it so well because I was at the legislature that day and Gov. Paul Laxalt called me to his office and read me a telegram that Hughes would donate the amount of up to $20 million for a medical school, no matter where it was located. And, of course, the next day Hughes got his gaming license,” Smith recalled.

Smith met with administrators and medical staff of Nevada’s hospitals to persuade them to allow medical students to interact with patients and recruited physicians to be teachers. When the School of Medical Sciences opened in 1969, he had gathered 14 full-time faculty and more than 200 community physicians committed to giving their best for the school and its students.

After serving as dean for the first eight years of the School of Medical Sciences as it was then known, Smith left in 1977. He briefly served as vice chancellor of health affairs at West Virginia University before being asked to serve as dean of the medical school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

From there, he advised the Shah of Iran. “The Shah was interested in education and wanted to put a medical school in each provincial state. They never got off the ground. The Shah fell, war broke out, and I came back home to Boston,” he said.

Smith also held faculty appointments at Tufts University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Smith served as director of the Southeastern Regional Medical Education Center for the Veterans Administration, editor of the Alabama Journal of Medical Sciences, chairman of the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex Medical Advisory Board, chairman of the Third Congress on Continuing Medical Education and president of the Society of the Directors of the CME and Foundation for Continuing Medical Education.

Smith returned to the University of Nevada School of Medicine in September 2009 to help celebrate its 40th anniversary and hosted a gathering of the charter class.

In speaking with the members of the first class, he praised the pioneering spirit of Nevada as a state in establishing a medical school.

“People didn’t know the grit that Nevada has because of the fact that they came in and made up for all the lost time and in so doing they made themselves better. That is what education is all about: to improve yourself and those around you. Because when you do improve yourself, you also improve those who work with you, for you, and even sometimes against you.”

Four decades later, the University of Nevada School of Medicine has graduated more than 1,600 medical doctors and 800 Ph.D., speech pathology and medical technicians. All who are associated with the University of Nevada School of Medicine still benefit from Smith’s tireless efforts to establish this institution.

The school’s faculty, students and staff will greatly miss Smith’s dedication to education.