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Arnold School of Public Health


From Left: SC PRAMS Coordinator Kristin Simpson (left), Mike Smith, and  Director of Public Health Statistics and Information Services Shae Sutton

Two-time BIOS alumnus Mike Smith wins Early Career Professional Achievement Award

September 26, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Mike Smith just graduated in May with a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) in Biostatistics from the Arnold School, but he’s been contributing to public health practice for nearly a decade. His efforts were recently recognized at the CityMatCH Leadership and MCH (Maternal Child Health) Epidemiology Conference in Philadelphia with the Early Career Professional Achievement Award from the Coalition for Excellence in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology for outstanding leadership and contributions to the field during the early part of his career. [Pictured above at the conference from left: S.C. PRAMS Coordinator (DHEC) Kristin Simpson, Smith, and Director of Public Health Statistics and Information Services (DHEC) Shae Sutton]

The two-time Carolina alumnus always had an interest in preventive health, and his professional experience steered him toward maternal and child health with its widespread, practical focus on prevention. “Maternal and child health is particularly interesting to me because it is an area in which prevention has become ‘main stream’ through health services, such as vaccination and prenatal care,” he explains. “This interest was really cemented when I took a full-time job with the S.C. PRAMS program at DHEC.”

Smith began his career at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) in 2007 as the operations manager for the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) while he was still working on a Master of Science in Public Health in Biostatistics at the Arnold School. During this time, Smith received the U.S. Public Health Service Traineeship and won a Best Abstract Award at the PRAMS Annual Conference for his analysis of PRAMS data.

After four years with PRAMS, Smith joined DHEC’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau—initially as an epidemiologist and later as the director for the Bureau’s Division of Research and Planning. As director, he oversees projects and programs, such as the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review, Fetal Infant Mortality Review, S.C. Birth Defects Program, CDC MD STARNet, and others.

Meanwhile, Smith had begun working toward earning a DrPH. Through his DHEC roles, he began collaborating with numerous community and organizational committees, workgroups and coalitions across the state, working to establish an evidence-based approach to maternal and child health. Throughout his work, Smith integrates a focus on racial disparities and inequities.

“Mike has shown himself to be one of the best assets to maternal and child health in South Carolina and his rare combination of expertise in analytics, teaching, and passion to help partners contributed to a shift toward evidence-based maternal and child health across the state’s maternal and child health workforce,” says Director of the Bureau of Child and Maternal Health Beth De Santis. “Through his work, he has helped build an infrastructure for maternal and child health epidemiology in South Carolina and led robust projects that support public health practice within that infrastructure. He also supports partners, such as Healthy Start and March of Dimes, with their maternal and child health epidemiology and public health practice efforts.”

His work has also led to a better understanding of the maternal and child health population in S.C. Smith’s contributions include better surveillance of maternal and child health as well as translating and promoting the surveillance data to health entities and the public. By making appropriate evidence available, his impact has also led to improved services for these populations.

“Mike demonstrates outstanding leadership and tireless efforts in addressing and raising awareness about issues of Infant Mortality,” says Virginia Berry White, director for the community-based organization and DHEC partner, Family Solutions of the Low Country. “He is a genius at studying and reporting trends/occurrences of women’s health and how it impacts the overall community. He is not only well informed, but he is also extremely personable and his passion for his work is displayed without question.”

The 2016 Outstanding Biostatistics Award Winner also made a big impression on Arnold School faculty and students throughout his graduate programs. “With a full time job, Mike approached me about mentoring him toward his DrPH degree in biostatistics,” says Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Curriculum James Hardin, who served as Smith's dissertation chair. “He was a joy to work with, and his ability to apply statistics tools and techniques to his particular field of epidemiological research is better than any student with whom I have worked. This latest award is the first of many instances of recognition he will receive.”

Yet it’s all in a day’s work for Smith, whose commitment to advancing maternal and child health epidemiology continues to grow. “I’d like for South Carolina to continue to develop into a national leader in creating and implementing evidence-based and data-informed systems, programs and interventions in maternal and child health,” he says. “Our current environment of collaboration across family-serving entities in South Carolina has fostered major innovations that will continue to improve the health of current and future generations in our state.”