International Women's Day - An interview with Dr. Cristina Smith

Assistant Professor, Division of Occupational Therapy
Founder of MUSC Alliance for Hispanic Health
College of Health Professions
 
Tell me about yourself and your role here at MUSC.
 
Growing up, I knew I had always had a desire to enter healthcare but I did not exactly know what that looked like for me. After graduating from the College of Charleston, I decided to volunteer at the MUSC Children’s Hospital where I was visiting with a little girl in a shoulder cast who only wanted to see her occupational therapist. That experience led me to the Occupational Therapy (OT) program at MUSC, where I am now an Assistant Professor and Admissions Director in the Division of OT and serve as the Faculty Advisor to the MUSC College of Health Professions Student Diversity Leadership Council. I am also the Founding President of the MUSC Alliance for Hispanic Health which I started during my first year as an MUSC student. When I am not on campus working, you can find me operating my private practice, Vida Bella Services, which helps provide occupational therapy, physical therapy, and soon speech therapy to the Hispanic community and other communities with barriers to healthcare. 
 
 
What is the MUSC Alliance for Hispanic Health and what inspired you to start this program?
 
The MUSC Alliance for Hispanic Health aims to provide an opportunity for MUSC students, faculty, and staff to collaborate and address the health needs of the Hispanic community including healthcare services, cultural awareness, student needs and recruitment, and research. 
 
As I was on my way to receive a scholarship award at a prestigious Hispanic gala, I saw a pickup truck full of Latino men and I knew that they were trying to get work for the day. The disparity between their situation and mine struck me, so I began looking at different organizations and ways I could help.  However, I did not find many that were really geared towards meeting the needs of the Hispanic community. I knew I wanted to address the disparity and also help address the limited access to healthcare. I soon realized that many others on campus had the same interest and passion as I did. Those experiences are what helped lead me to start the program. 
 
 
You are not only a successful, well-known woman in your career, but you are also a mother and a wife. How do you manage a steady work life balance? 
 
I see many women, as well as myself, struggle with this “work life balance” piece. I remember when my children were really little. Every minute that I was away from them was a minute of their childhood I was missing, and I had to decide how much of that I was okay with. It is so hard to strike that balance. You never feel like you are where you should be. If you are at work, you feel like you should be at home. If you are home, you feel like you should be at work. I find the best way to manage it is by prioritizing my time. Also, I really strive for self-care. When you take care of yourself, often everything else will fall into place. Be happy with where you are now, and take it day by day. Remember you are doing your best and take joy in the small wins. 
 
What main changes would you like to see for young women, especially Hispanic Women, in the next generation? 
 
I would like to see Hispanic women continue to have courage to grow beyond traditional roles and expectations. When individuals are not allowed to realize talent and live up to their potential, it is a loss for our society.
 
Can you tell me about one female who has impacted you over your career and made an influence towards your success? 
 
Maralynne Mitcham, who served as the Assistant Dean of the MUSC College of Health Professions and Chair of the OT Division made a great impact on my life. She mentored and taught me throughout my journey in the occupational therapy program. When I started my clinical occupational therapy doctorate, I completed an independent study on Graduate Teaching in the 21st Century.  I reached out to her to see if I could give a guest lecture in her class. Shortly after, she offered me an adjunct appointment upon finishing my doctorate and invited me back the next year to give four more sessions on the topic of leadership and advocacy.  She saw something in me that I did not see in myself at that time. She always stayed connected with me and really encouraged me to pursue my passion behind the diversity and inclusion initiatives at MUSC. 
 
 
What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself? 
 
Be honest with yourself about what you are really capable of and what you are not. Be mindful and care for yourself when needed.  It is easy to get out of balance, so it is important to have others in your life you trust to help you find your “true north.”