There isn’t enough space in this publication to list all of the highlights and achievements of decorated former surgeon general Dr. Robina Smith, but the mere fact that this woman with a lifelong fascination of art would land in the medial profession in the first place is beyond comprehension.
Smith is an East Coast girl by nature, having been born and raised in New York by her single mother who gave birth and divorced at a young age and was navigating through life as best she could.
The one common bond that Smith shared with her mother was art.
“I would say that my first experience of being involved with art was just sketching. I could take regular rule paper and draw a house and each line would be so detailed that it would connect every facet of the house,” Smith explained to Inglewood Today during a candid interview.
She had no idea what she was doing at the time, likely mimicking her mother who was and still is a rather accomplished artist.
Her mother Sabrina Poole currently owns an art studio in Philadelphia which she shares with Smith’s sister, Lauren who is also an artist.
Adopting her mother’s creative side led to Smith formally practicing as an artist when by the time she reached high school of which there were many.
Smith attended five different high schools over a four year period in three different states beginning at performance arts McKinley High School in Buffalo, New York, through Boston and Philadelphia and concluding in Pennsylvania.
“Based on my history alone I should not have made it to where I am today,” she opined.
“I didn’t do well in school, but two classes that rooted me in no matter what state I attended them was my art classes and my science classes. Those two classes I think shaped who I am,” Smith added. “I would always fall behind in English, but when it came to subjects like art and biology I assimilated.”
Deciding that she did not want to becoming a starving artist and certainly didn’t want to become a doctor because there were not any doctors in her family her future career path was uncertain.
“No one told me that I was smart enough to be a doctor, so I thought I was going to be an artist standing on a corner selling paintings for food. Turns out that at the last high school attended gave me the answer.”
That is when Smith learned there was a course that would combine her love for art and science in medical and scientific illustration careers.
“I had no idea what they were talking about so I went to the library and what I learned that medical illustration was artists that draws the anatomy. So, when you go to the doctor’s office and you see to renderings of the bones and muscles that’s a medical illustrator,” Smith detailed.
As a result, and in combing through to find such a school that offered classes she went to as far places as Ohio before discovering such classes, but they would require for her to study and learn what most doctors and surgeons are taught anyway.
She went on received medical degree from Drexel University College, subsequently came west from her residence of New York in 2007 to train at USC and was expected to get married, but when the marriage didn’t happen, she stayed west anyway.
That experience sketched a blue print that would ultimately serve as the compass to her career evolution as Dr. Robina Smith.
In 2015 she retired as a general surgeon at Providence St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton.
While she enjoyed her work as a breast cancer surgeon, the location and the ethnicity of the patients left a void for some soul searching.
“I think during the 10 plus years I was in Fullerton, I operated on only one Black woman.”
Smith did not leave the profession specifically because of geographics or the lack of Black patients, but more so because she felt burned out.
However, an executive board member position with renowned Susan G Komen, a non-profit organization with a mission to end breast cancer through research, care, community and action provided Smith with a platform to reach Black women who are high risk for breast cancer.
“The fulfillment that I sought I would achieve by volunteering my knowledge going out to community churches and organizations and talking about breast cancer in Los Angeles where people look like me,” she elaborated.
That work was done under to auspices of Susan G Komen because they had the platform, but her advocacy to help individuals afflicted with cancer has continued under the shield of her own foundation.
“What I do for me is where the art come in when I go to my studio to create it is just for me,” she added.
For the past 12 years she has resided in Long Beach and believes that her ultimate purpose is that of a helper.
“What drives me is when I do something and it makes someone happy. I thrive on doing something that makes people happy. My purpose on this earth has been fulfilled, but I can always be helpful.”