Meet Distinguished Scientist Philip Smith, M.D.

January 22, 2015

Image with caption: Philip Smith, M.D.

Philip Smith, M.D.

This profile is part of a series to highlight the researchers who will be honored at a Feb. 2 ceremony for UNMC's 2014 Scientist Laureate, Research Leadership, Distinguished Scientist and New Investigator Award recipients.

  • Name: Philip W. Smith, M.D.
  • Title: Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases, and Medical Director, Nebraska Biocontainment Unit
  • Joined UNMC: 1998
  • Hometown: Milwaukee

picture disc.

State of the Union

Dr. Smith, left, is pictured with Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse. Dr. Smith was Sen. Sasse's guest at Tuesday's State of the Union address by President Barack Obama.

Describe your research briefly in layman's terms.
Currently my efforts are devoted almost entirely to Ebola virus disease (EVD). I am medical director of the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit, one of only three such specialized units in the U.S. Our research efforts are devoted to applied aspects of the care of EVD patients, since we are one of the few centers in the country with hands-on experience treating Ebola patients. We have been involved in the study of clinical and laboratory aspects of EVD, infection control measures, EVD treatments and the many complexities of working in a specialized environment with a disease that is contagious and has a mortality of more than 50 percent. We also have worked with the CDC to enhance the Ebola preparedness of many other hospitals. Our leadership team of eight individuals with diverse skills oversees our research, patient care and staff safety programs, as well as our educational efforts.

How does your research contribute to science and/or health care?
The current Ebola outbreak is the largest known, with well over 21,000 cases and 8,000 deaths. While the outbreak is primarily in Africa, the U.S. has been involved, eliciting a broad public health response. A few U.S. and European hospitals have cared for Ebola patients flown back from Africa, and by virtue of laboratory testing and observations on the disease have been able to contribute knowledge of EVD that has been helpful to the care of Ebola patients in all settings. We are also participating in treatment studies for EVD, which is particularly important since no proven therapy exists at present.

What is the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you, professional or personal?
My mentor during my infectious diseases fellowship, Dr. Walter Hierholzer, told me that "One's career takes strange twists and turns -- be open to opportunity."

List three things few people know about you.

  • I write poetry, when I have time, and have had several poems published.
  • I coached Little League baseball for eight years.
  • I have been to Antarctica, my favorite trip.


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Laura Shafer
January 22, 2015 at 11:23 AM

We should mention that Dr. Smith also reads his poetry to others, with that deep, eloquent voice that comes to him so naturally. A Gentleman and Scholar of the highest order. And yes, Ebola was a heckuva "strange twist and turn"!!

Nancy Woelfl, PhD
January 22, 2015 at 10:41 AM

I can think of no one more deserving of distinguished scientist honors than Dr. Phil Smith. Many congratulations, Nancy Woelfl, PhD, Professor Emeritus

Peter Iwen
January 22, 2015 at 8:22 AM

Phil, Congratulations on this great honor! You are a true gentleman and I am honored to have the opportunity to work with you. I look forward to continued collaborations and hearing more about your trip to Antarctica.....

Sherry Martin
January 22, 2015 at 7:55 AM

Dear Dr. (Phil) glad I was when I read your accomplishment. Congratulations! I would love to read some of your poetry...I will find your poems with the help of the McGoogan library staff. :-) May blessings continue to flow your way!