by Andrea Blankemeyer M’20
Dallas Smith, Pharm.D. ’17, has made quite the impact on the world since graduating from the University of Findlay.
Smith grew up in rural Ayersville, Ohio, on a small family farm, and during his senior year of high school, as he sifted through ideas of what to study in college, he came across the field of pharmacy. “I discovered that pharmacy was a really fascinating profession that could allow me to focus on disease prevention. It immediately sparked my interest,” said Smith. UF was relatively close to his hometown, something that was important to Smith in choosing a college, and, along with being impressed with Findlay’s Pharmacy Program, he had an interest in Oiler basketball, a sport he played and loved in high school. Being offered the opportunity to play for UF was the icing on the black and orange cake for Smith, and he chose the University to further his athletics and education.
University of Findlay
Smith said that, during the six years he spent as a UF student-athlete, his Findlay experience was nothing short of spectacular, particularly because of the many opportunities for involvement he found. He served as a resident assistant for a year, then as a resident director for two years, and won both the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy and Walmart and Pharmacy Times RESPy (Respect, Excellence, and Service in Pharmacy) Awards. Perhaps most notably, Smith participated in international study abroad trips and the cultural immersion that went along with it. In fact, Smith was one of the founders of the Oilers Studying Abroad Program (OSAP). As a student, he also served in clinics abroad in Mexico and Haiti. “I really enjoy learning about different cultures and the history behind those cultures,” Smith mentioned, “as well as just learning more about the world in general and why it is the way it is today.” He believes that his passion for cultural immersion has significantly influenced his career path.
In May of 2017, Smith graduated from the University of Findlay and, a month later, joined the Peace Corps, where his first stretch landed him in Cambodia from that summer to the summer of 2019. While there, he served as a Community Health Educator, where his main role was to work with the health center’s staff to improve different health outcomes in the community and to work with community members, empowering them to improve their own health. Smith spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the particular Cambodian community in which he found himself could improve their nutrition intake. Additionally, he taught English at a secondary school in the community, for which one of the projects he led was converting an open space in the courtyard of the school into a garden. Smith incorporated gardening techniques and organic farming methods into a class’s curriculum and worked to partner the school’s new garden with the health center, which gave him the ability to provide fresh produce to patients.
An additional large project Smith had a hand in was renovating the delivery room at the health center with a Peace Corps funded grant. With the goal of providing expectant mothers with a better atmosphere for delivery, he partnered with community outreach in the villages that the health center served, educating soon-to-be mothers, spreading awareness of vaccinations, what to expect of the birthing process, what to do after the birth of the child, and so forth. “It was a really cool experience working collaboratively and empowering the other midwives and nurses who work at the health center, along with providing them with the right supplies needed to do really great work,” said Smith. After the renovations and improvements were made, according to Smith, the health center saw a big increase in mothers coming to the health center for labor and delivery needs and knowledge. “I learned so many lessons in Cambodia, but two of the main things were how important health system strengthening and collaborating is and secondly, [how beneficial it is to have] the ability to provide care for the citizens of Cambodia at an equal level,” mentioned Smith.
After Smith’s positive and life changing experience in Cambodia, he continued with the Peace Corps, traveling to Malawi in southeastern Africa. It turned out to be a much different, yet similarly rewarding experience. While there, Smith entered into a shortened, more specific, Peace Corps role within the Peace Corps response program. In it, he was a clinical pharmacy and pharma cognancy lecturer at the only medical university in Malawi. “I was able to train some of the brightest, most amazing students, and shape the field of pharmacy because it’s an emerging profession in Malawi,” he said. “It was an incredible experience.” In March 2020, however, Smith’s time in Malawi was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic when the Peace Corps decided to do a global evacuation of all volunteers. “I think approximately 8,000 Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated and brought back to the United States within 48 hours, all across the world,” he said. “There were a lot of emotions during that time, but I would say the biggest one was I felt like I was abandoning my colleagues, students, and friends. Ultimately, Peace Corps made the right decision, but just the concept of it was very strange.”
Medical Reserve Corps
After the required quarantine, Smith and his fiancé, a Peace Corps volunteer he met in Cambodia, moved to Arlington, VA. Shortly after, Smith said he was very lucky to be hired temporarily by the Medical Reserve Corps and worked in a unit administering COVID-19 tests.
Toward the end of December 2020, the Medical Reserve Corps transitioned him to help manage a COVID-19 vaccination program in Arlington, Virginia. “I started looking for another job because I knew this wasn’t a permanent position,” said Smith. “I really loved what I did; being able to be part of such a mass mobilization of volunteers and people to vaccinate the public was an incredible experience, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do long term.”
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
In July 2021, Smith started in a new position within the Epidemic Center for Intelligence with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC’s Epidemic Center for Intelligence is considered a premiere applied epidemiology program in the United States.
In his current position at the CDC, Smith investigates disease outbreaks, does surveillance on diseases, and works with a lot of different partners to stop diseases. “I’m currently working globally and domestically on outbreaks occurring, doing lots of different projects, and learning a lot by contributing from a pharmaceutical perspective and from a Peace Corps perspective,” added Smith.
While current data has revealed that more and more people are getting vaccinated – something that Smith describes as “really exciting”- the CDC’s recommendation of COVID-19 boosters are getting off the ground as well, and Smith is hoping that will give an extra push to get through the winter. “Hopefully, by the time next spring rolls around, more people will be vaccinated, more people will have the booster, and we can finally get a good handle on this pandemic and the variants that may arrive in the next couple of months,” he said. “It’s a very exciting time to be in public health,” said Smith. “The COVID-19 pandemic has really mobilized public health professionals in something that none of us have seen before.”
Smith’s ultimate career goal is to encourage pharmacists to get much more involved in public health, and with the path that he is on, and the knowledge and abilities he is accruing along the way, he is well-equipped to be a voice for the industry.