It’s been said, “Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Well, that sums up the career of Kelvina Smith ’09, who has been enthralled with the medical field since she was a child. Growing up, Smith found herself entertained by the world of medical television shows, and her passion only grew when she was able to take human biology at GPS. She quickly learned that medicine was the field she wanted to work in and went on to attend Tennessee State University, where she graduated cum laude from the honors program, earning a bachelor’s degree in cardiorespiratory care sciences. Today, she works as a respiratory therapist in the pediatric intensive care unit at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, but she’s recently taken her calling one step further: she traveled to Texas to help with the COVID-19 emergency response.
Q. How did you get into what you’re doing now? Did you always know you wanted to enter the medical field?
A. Growing up I would always watch the Discovery Channel. The shows about rare medical conditions and birth stories always fascinated me, and the medical field seemed like a wonderful option for a career. My choice was solidified senior year when I took human biology. By studying the human body and shadowing nurses at Erlanger during lab, I knew for a fact it was what I wanted to do. I became a respiratory therapist because I loved that it specialized in one specific system of the body, which is so critical to sustain life.
Q. Why are you passionate about what you do?
A. I am passionate about being a respiratory therapist because I love helping people. I am there at the absolute worst time of a patient’s life, but I am able to care for them and also be a support system through the healing process. Watching someone go from being on the brink of death to going back home and knowing you played a part in that is the most satisfying feeling in the world.
Q. What was your favorite tradition at GPS? Why?
A. My favorite tradition at GPS was singing the “Where Oh Wheres.” It was exciting every year to have a new classification, and one of the greatest memories of senior year was singing it for the last time and hugging my classmates who had been on that journey with me the whole time!
Q. If you could offer one piece of advice to current GPS students, what would it be?
A. Cherish every minute because you will look back at it as one of the greatest times of your life! Also take advantage of all that GPS has to offer. Don't be afraid to try anything and everything—you may just find your life’s passion.
Q. Do you stay in touch with your classmates? What impact have they had on your life?
A. Yes, I look forward to any opportunity we have to hang out and catch up. I grew up only having brothers, so GPS gave me the sisters that I never had.
Q. Can you point to anything that GPS did to prepare you for your future?
A. The biggest skill GPS gave me was my voice and the boldness to speak up. Being in an environment where females are celebrated gave me the confidence and ability to speak my mind. After consistently being told you are a girl with power and strength, eventually you start to believe it.
Q. Are there any quotes that really resonate with you/guide you in your daily pursuits?
A. " Well-behaved women seldom make history."—Laurel Thatcher Ulrich