Career Building

Brian L. Smith’s first job in respiratory care wasn’t anything too exciting. A new college grad with a bachelor’s degree in zoology, he went to work at Albany Medical Center in Albany, NY, as a trainee in the respiratory care department.

That was back in the days before state licensure, so hospitals were willing to take on promising candidates like Brian and show them the ropes. But Brian figured out pretty quickly that getting ahead in this relatively new profession of respiratory care would take more.

“I was able to gain experience and eventually enroll in an accelerated program through the Albany Medical Center and SUNY to become a respiratory therapist,” says the AARC member.

Today he is the director of respiratory care at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, a 600-bed teaching hospital in San Francisco, CA, recognized around the world for innovative patient care, advanced technology, and pioneering research.

Brian’s early ability to see what it would take to succeed has served him well throughout his career. “I had a series of clinical promotions from technician to various therapist positions at Albany and then at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia.”

He achieved his first management appointment at Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, OH. “The appointment was to supervisor, respiratory care, overseeing the acute care areas and the acute care ventilator program that was expanding.”Then he spent a number of years at University Hospitals of Cleveland.

Brian believes his strong work ethic, ability to work with people, and clinical expertise earned him that first managerial position and he continued to leverage those qualities to his advantage. He also credits his success to a “never give up” attitude, willingness to assume risk and try new things, and a “do the right thing” philosophy about life in general.

Along the way he also had some “wonderful mentors” who he says “taught me how to think and perform at a higher level.” And he never failed to keep his eye on the big picture. “Patients come first, always,” he says.

Brian’s top career building advice: Find someone who you admire, trust, and who does things well. Learn from them even if there is no material gain in your pocketbook. I never got paid a penny for my research, writing, or patient support activities. However, those activities were instrumental in developing my skills and success in life. I just got a whole lot better at what I really loved to do.