by Helen Altonn
Medical students are seeing a familiar face in a different role: Dr. Richard W. Smerz is our new Director of the Office of Student Affairs.
Dr. Smerz’ specialties are hyperbaric and undersea medicine. He has been medical director of the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s Hyperbaric Treatment Center at Kuakini Medical Center for 10 years.
Dr. Smerz assumed his new duties on November 1 with an all-around understanding of the medical school’s education program. He has been teaching medical students in the problem-based tutoring sessions the last several years and he has been involved in medical education as a professor.Dr. Smerz’ main function as director of the student affairs is to shepherd students through their four-year curriculum and support their needs–financial, academic or personal counseling, he said. Another responsibility is “making sure we take care of all their records, registration, etc., and writing a dean’s letter, setting them up for post-graduate training,” he said.
Dr. Smerz graduated with a doctor of osteopathic medical degree from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in 1975 and spent about 25 years in the Army with clinical medical, research, education, administrative and command responsibilities. He has a master’s degree in tropical medicine and hygiene from Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.
Dr. Smerz grew up mostly in Arizona and said he “was a nomad” after going to medical school. Retiring from the Army, he went to the University of North Texas as vice chairman of the Department of Family Medicine. The university was responsible for running the hyperbaric chambers, doing mostly wound care, he said.
Dr. Smerz said he became involved with diving medicine in the military. “It was one of those side things they kind of exposed me to. I was interested in doing hyperbaric and diving medicine and it just so happened they were looking for someone to do that out here,” he said. In July 2000, he started work at the hyperbaric chamber.
Dr. Smerz’ wife, Angela, is going through training as a hospital chaplain at The Queen’s Medical Center. She has a master’s degree in pastoral theology from Chaminade University. They have five grown children and seven grandchildren.
The diving medical officer said he doesn’t dive as much as he used to. “I go out and reorganize and redesign golf courses,” he said. “I get out there with my golf clubs and where they didn’t have holes, I like to create them.”
He said he’s looking forward to his new job. “I really like working with medical students. It’s a fun thing. If I can keep them out of trouble and help them do good things in the future and be successful, I’ll feel like I’ve done something. “
Dr. Smerz will continue as the hyperbaric program’s medical director.