Spring 2022

Robert Smith III: Leading in a Time of Transition

article summary

Robert Smith III brings a wealth of leadership experience as the School's new vice dean.

Robert Smith III, PhD, joined the Gillings School in February as the School’s new vice dean. But his commitment to public health goes back to his childhood, where, as a young man, he earned the nickname “Doc.”

“To this day, I get calls from family members asking for my help with diagnoses or advice around issues of public health, even before COVID-19,” Smith says. “As I look at the work that lies ahead of us to fulfill the Gillings School’s mission, it will be important to preserve our core while embracing our future. The world has changed so much in the past two years, but the response from Gillings has been amazing. I marvel at the life-changing research coming from our faculty, our brilliant and diverse students, and our committed staff who continue to work tirelessly in the face of so much change.”

Smith spent the last 10 years as associate chair for administration in the Department of Neurology at the UNC School of Medicine, where he focused on policy development and implementation, financial planning and management, strategic planning, human resources management, and information systems design and delivery. Before coming to UNC-Chapel Hill, Smith was the director of human resources consulting at the University of Virginia, where he previously was chief administrative officer in the departments of pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology.

Smith joins Gillings at a time when the pandemic has changed many assumptions about work and the role of public health in society. Old learning and operational habits are being examined, and Smith brings his experience with the “Future of Work” from his time at the School of Medicine. While Gillings has helped to usher in the most diverse class of students in the School’s history, there is still work to be done with enrollment and hiring. 

“Good people stay in good places, and a big part of my job will be to continue to make Gillings a ‘good place.’”

— Robert Smith III, PhD

“Good people stay in good places,” Smith says. “And a big part of my job will be to continue to make Gillings a ‘good place.’”

Smith began collaborating with Gillings in 2012, when he delivered his first guest lecture on ethics in the Department of Health Policy and Management. He has worked closely with second-year Master of Healthcare Administration students to place them in internships within the School of Medicine that allow them to gain practical experience in a hospital setting.

Outside of work, Smith has been an avid cyclist since his time as a member of the Piedmont Flyers cycling team.

“My love for Gillings goes back a long way, and there’s a reason why we’re the top public school of public health,” he says. “I want to help preserve all that makes us great while still looking toward the future.” 

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