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Former ship's doctor at the helm of campus health

February 1, 2005

Photo of Dr. Alastair K. SmithSan Francisco resident Dr. Alastair K. Smith, new director of student health services, is a native of Ayrshire, Scotland. But you have to listen very carefully to catch a trace of an accent since the doctor has practiced all over the world.

Recently answering the call to oversee the staff of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who are the primary caregivers for most of SFSU's 29,000 students and 3,000 faculty and staff, Dr. Smith brings nearly 30 years of experience as a doctor, medical director and medical adviser with a variety of large institutions including trans-oceanic cruise lines and the San Francisco International Airport.

"Health education and preventative care will be priorities for me at SFSU," says Smith. "I am interested in making the Student Health Services an integral part of the SFSU campus. ... We should always be thinking about what else can be done to improve campus life as a whole."

After receiving his medical degree from the University of London, Smith completed his residencies in various hospitals throughout the United Kingdom including one in Birmingham, England, that stands out in his memory. "The hospital was referred to as the ‘Birmingham Baby Hospital' because, literally, that's all that went on there ... I delivered baby after baby and left my six-month residency absolutely exhausted."

In the midst of the "Birmingham baby residency" Smith picked up a magazine with a feature on the Queen Elizabeth 2's doctor. "Of course that life seemed very glamorous," Smith admits. But he was more attracted to the idea of practicing medicine while traveling to foreign countries. Within a year, Smith shipped out to practice on the high seas and in exotic ports along the Pacific Rim, Arctic, Mediterranean and the Atlantic as a ship's doctor for P&O Princess Cruise Lines.

Dr. Smith spent a total of five years at sea before he met his wife, Sally, aboard the Pacific Princess and returned to land to complete a family practice residency in the United States at the University of California, San Francisco. Later, as a partner at the San Francisco International Airport Medical Group, Smith provided medical support to the airport in public health, disaster management and pre-hospital emergency medical services as well as serving as a Senior FAA medical examiner.

In 1993 Dr. Smith returned to P&O Princess as a vice president and medical director of the fleet. Most recently he served as president and chief medical officer for International & Maritime Health Consultants Inc. A past chairman of the American College of Emergency Physicians, Smith is pursuing an MBA from the American College of Physician Executives through the University of Massachusetts.

The work ahead at SFSU will not be far from the scope and focus of Smith's practice in maritime environs. While he doesn't expect to deliver babies or treat any cases of seasickness, the majority of his patients will be young people, like ship crews. And Smith's expertise in occupational, preventive and environmental medicine will serve faculty and staff as well as students.

Though Smith's practice is now conducted in only one port, travel remains a passion. Last fall he and his wife made a 16-day visit to Vietnam where they spent most of their time exploring Hmong villages and the Mekong Delta area.

Dr. Smith lives in Noe Valley with Sally, a fifth generation San Franciscan, and their golden retriever, Mollie. San Francisco, of course, remains one of his favorite ports.

-- Denize Springer


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Last modified February 1, 2005 by University Communications