March 1, 2023
Former dean of Medicine receives Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Award
It’s difficult to measure the impact Dr. Eldon Smith, MD, has had during his 50-year career in cardiology and academic pursuits.
Former dean of Medicine at the University of Calgary and former president for both the Canadian Cardiovascular Society and the Association of Canadian Medical Colleges, Smith has been a game changer not just in the Calgary community but far beyond. Smith still maintains a busy schedule serving the community behind the scenes.
A cardiologist by training, Smith has been a big part of the provincial and national health scene for decades. To name a few of his accomplishments: he chaired the Canadian Heart Health Strategy and Action Plan; was the founder, president and director of the Peter Lougheed Medical Research Foundation, a national initiative to support excellence in health research in Canada; was editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Cardiology for 13 years; served on the Board of Trustees of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR); and was a member of the Alberta Health Services board.
An emeritus professor, Smith chairs the Libin Cardiovascular Institute’s (LCI) Strategic Advisory Board, where he helps guide local cardiovascular research, education and training. He is a highly sought-after consultant in the biotech sector for both his medical and health systems knowledge.
After a career spanning more than 50 years, Smith is happy to take an advisory role.
“I am now trying to help implement other people’s dreams,” he says, noting he retired from clinical practice about 18 years ago. “I find it quite rewarding.”
Unsurprisingly, Smith has earned numerous accolades over the years. He holds fellowships in prestigious organizations such as the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society, and has received numerous awards from international, national, provincial and local organizations, such as a Lifetime Member Award from the Canadian Medical Association, Lifetime Achievement Award from the City of Calgary, the Top 7 over 70 Calgary Award and even the Order of Canada.
Most recently he was recognized with a Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Award. It’s quite fitting for Smith, who has served and led his community for decades.
“The Queen served the citizens for 70 years,” says Smith. “That’s an amazing feat. It’s an honour to receive this award.”
Smith was born and raised in a small farming community near Halifax, Nova Scotia.
After high school, Smith went to Dalhousie University where he quickly rose to the top. He graduated with his medical degree and received the Faculty of Medicine’s gold medal. Following completion of graduate training in internal medicine, he accepted a cardiology fellowship in England at the prestigious University of London and the National Heart Hospital.
He then spent three years conducting research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, primarily doing basic research in cardiac blood flow and the electrophysiology of ischemia, a relatively new science at the time that looked at the mechanisms behind common arrhythmias during heart attacks.
By then he had married his lifelong partner, Sheila, and the two of them returned to Halifax, where Smith spent seven years as a member of Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine before being recruited to Calgary, where he took on the role of head of cardiology at the Foothills Medical Centre.
Here, Smith maintained an active cardiology practice with a subspecialty in echocardiography while conducting basic and clinical research. He also rose through the academic ranks and was appointed chairman of the Department of Medicine in 1985. In 1990, he was appointed associate dean for Clinical Affairs. In 1992, he took over the role of dean of Medicine, a position he held for five years.
UCalgary’s medical school was just 10 years old – with only two other full-time faculty members in cardiology when Smith arrived.
“The challenge I faced was coming here when there was very little in place,” he says. “But it was an opportunity to make something.”
Smith embraced that challenge, setting up a cardiology training program and getting approval from the Royal College for the fledgling program. He also recruited numerous researchers and clinicians in his first five years. These individuals laid the foundation for the Department of Cardiac Sciences, which is now one of the top heart centers in Canada.
“We had a lot of luck and recruited a lot of good people,” he says. “The Department has done well.”
During his tenure as dean, Smith faced new challenges and again, had great success.
Facing massive budget cuts and the possibility of losing valued colleagues, Smith innovated by asking Calgarians to support the medical school. With tremendous support from the community, this was overwhelmingly successful. The campaign raised more than $50 million, which allowed the University to retain some of its top medical scientists and attract new recruits, ultimately building the medical school’s influence.
Smith is also proud of the innovative curriculum that was introduced at the school of medicine during his time as dean. It has been adopted in several places around the world, which is a great compliment to the innovator and the Institution he served.
Shortly after his tenure as dean, Smith’s dream of developing a health institute came to fruition with the formation of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute. It was the first of its kind in Calgary and was based on the model Smith had worked in during his time at London’s National Heart Institute and at the NIH in Washington.
“I found the model to be very enabling and exciting,” says Smith, who was inaugural chair of the Libin Institute’s Scientific Advisory Board. “It was something I dreamed about over the years, and when I met Alvin and Mona Libin and talked to them about it, they adopted it as their dream as well and became our founding donors. It’s been great for Calgary and Southern Alberta.”
Dr. Paul Fedak, MD, PhD, director of the LCI, says Smith’s contributions to the Institute have been invaluable.
“Dr. Smith was the leading force behind the development of the LCI,” says Fedak. “His leadership and commitment to the institute has ensured its continued success. His impact would be difficult to measure.”
Dr. Todd Anderson, MD, dean of the Cumming School of Medicine and former director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, agrees.
“Dr. Smith was the architect of the concept of the health institute in Calgary,” says Anderson. “He knew the potential of a model that integrated cardiovascular research, education and clinical care and was a primary driver and catalyst in the formation of the Institute. His commitment has been unflagging.”
Anderson adds that Smith has also contributed to the success of many researchers and physicians in Calgary, including Anderson himself.
“I met him when I was a first-year medical student and he helped facilitate a research fellowship for me that cemented my desire to become a cardiologist and was there to support me along the way,” says Anderson. “He is also a dedicated family man, fantastic innovator and entrepreneur. In short, he is a wonderful individual who has combined a successful family life with academic and research acumen.”
Smith’s 43 years serving the Calgary community has been rewarding. Although he is now pleased to spend a bit more time at his second home in the Maritimes and with his wife, children and grandchildren, he’s not ready to step away. Nor would he choose a different path.
“It’s all I know,” says Smith with a laugh when asked about his continued commitments. “My career has been very rewarding, and I would choose it all again. “Calgary has definitely lived up to my expectations. We have an excellent team that has provided great care for people and conducted excellent research.”
Dr. Eldon Smith is an emeritus professor in the Department of Cardiac Sciences and former dean of the Cumming School of Medicine. He is a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.
Dr. Paul Fedak is a professor in the Department of Cardiac Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine and director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.
Dr. Todd Anderson is a professor in the Department of Cardiac Sciences and dean of the Cumming School of Medicine. He is a member of the libin Cardiovascular Institute.