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Powerful Women: Let's Talk - 108: Dr. Candace Smith-King

Jennifer Moss welcomes Dr. Candace Smith-King, a pediatric specialist in Grand Rapids, to the podcast

Dr. Candace Smith-King is a pediatric specialist in Grand Rapids. She currently practices with Helen Devos Children's Hospital. She's a Corewell Health West leader, who was recognized for her work in diversifying West Michigan's health care providers.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:


>> Produced by women, about women. Powerful Women: Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world; transforming who we are and how we live.


Jennifer Moss: Hello, everyone. Time for Powerful Women: Let's Talk. Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Jennifer Moss. It is a pleasure to bring you today's powerful woman, Dr. Candace Smith-King. Dr. Candace Smith-King is a pediatric specialist in Grand Rapids. She completed her residency at Grand Rapids Medical Education Research Center at MSU and she currently practices with Helen Devos Children's Hospital. She's a Corewell Health West leader, formally Spectrum of course, who was recognized for her work in diversifying West Michigan's health care providers. The vice president of academic affairs of Corewell Health West, Dr. Smith-King recently received the 2022 Health Equity Award from the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP in recognition of her work here in West Michigan. Smith-King was awarded at the 56th Annual Freedom Fund Gala that was back in October. And of course, that has powerful woman written all over it. Welcome, Dr. Candace Smith-King.

Dr. Candace Smith-King: Thank you. Thank you very much.

JM: So before we dive in, just a little bit more about Doctor Smith-King. A board certified pediatrician. She joined the academic general pediatrics practice at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital back in 2009, which offered her the opportunity to teach medical students and residents while caring for the underserved. Now, this teaching opportunity was expanded in 2012 when she became the program director for the Pediatric residency program. And that program supports diversifying the resident physician workforce. So again, glad to welcome you, Dr. Candace Smith-King to Powerful Women: Let's Talk.

CS: Thank you. Thanks for that wonderful introduction.

JM: So we're going to talk about it. You have quite the accomplished career. My first question, of course, is when we look at this, are you enjoying the journey?

CS: Oh, my goodness. Yeah, because it's, it's all unexpected, meaning that, you know, a lot of times, I think we plan for certain things that we try to make things happen. But all of the opportunities that have kind of come my way have fallen into my lap, meaning I’ve felt like they were led by god. I was just in the right place and god was like you can handle this and you can do this now. And so therefore it just naturally happened. My role leading the peace residency program naturally happened. My role leading GME across all of Corewell Health West naturally happened. And then, my opportunities to diversify residency programs just naturally happened.

JM: Yeah, and so as you look at that residency program, how important is that? As we talk about opening doors for persons of color along on their journey, of course, you had that, too, and we’ll talk about any barriers you may have faced in a moment. But how important is that program?

CS: So when you think about the journey of becoming a doctor, right, you've got, first you've got to get through your undergraduate degree and then you still have to go through medical school. Then after medical school, you have to go train somewhere for 3 to 7 years in a residency program. And so usually by the time you're in residency, you're in your mid 20's, you're closer to settling down. And so being able to bring people to Grand Rapids who look like me, in their mid 20's, and hopefully capture them and encourage them to stay after they finish training here is really how I hope to diversify the physician community in Grand Rapids. It really just gives us the opportunity to get people here. They’re a captive audience for 3 to 7 years. Hopefully connect them to the community, connect them to all of the wonderful things happening in Grand Rapids, help them connect to our patients and encourage them to stay here.

JM: And in reading some of your bio and some other information that is really needed here in West Michigan to see and to encourage other persons of color along the way, because there's a very small percentage from what I understand.

CS: Yes, there's, there’s not a lot of physicians of color in Grand Rapids and historically speaking, physicians of color love to take care of the under-represented: our patients who struggle, our patients who come from those similar environments. And so by expanding that, we’re really serving the needs of the community at a different level and that way, we don't have the gaps that we have now in care.

JM: Speaking of those gaps and such, what are some of the barriers that you faced? Because if there's a need for such a program, then clearly there have been maybe some obstacles or some barriers that you may have encountered along the way. What are some of those things? As you talk about creating opportunities for others and encouraging them to stay, what are some of the things that you perhaps faced along on your journey?

CS: No, definitely. So, one of the biggest barriers, probably is just the expectation- the work hours, right? So as physicians in training our residents and fellows work up to 80 hours a week. And so when I was a resident, I had a daughter. When I started out residency, my daughter was 7 and so trying to juggle being a parent and working those types of hours being gone for 30 hours at a time, because at that time we can work 24 hours, plus another 6. So being gone for 30 hours at a time, the biggest barrier was making sure that my daughter still knew me as the mom and we still had a good relationship. So without the support of my family, I really would not have been successful going through residency. And I think a lot of people really, speaking of myself, I would have really struggled had I not had a family, a supportive family system. My parents, neither them were. There was not a question about can you keep my daughter while I’m working an overnight shift? It was an expectation. They just expected themselves to step in and do that. And I appreciated that. But that was probably the most significant barrier for me was juggling being a parent, a good parent, and juggling being a resident physician in training.

JM: And so having that support, such as you provide through this residency program as well, that support is key.

CS: it's key and then even the mentorship, right? So if you look at going through residency as a, as a Black woman. Being the only Black woman in my residency program, who did I have to mentor me, right? Who's going to look out and who’s going to look at me and say hey Candace, what do you need? How are you really doing? And so one of the barriers initially I had was finding a mentor to look like me. And so what I really had to learn how to do is find mentors who maybe did not look like me until other mentors came along. And so that was probably one of the other barriers, was just feeling like somebody was looking out for me, somebody that I could connect with and really just to support me along the way.

JM: Absolutely. And so, as you look at overcoming and dealing with some of those barriers, how did she do then a move to become comfortable in your own skin and find your own voice along the way? Because clearly being the head of that program now and moving forward with those types of things and trying to keep that and create that equitable space, how did you get your own voice and discover that?

CS: It's funny. I think it just kind of came naturally after a few, after that first year of residency, that first intern year where you’re just really kind of confusing, you really don't know who you are. My confidence just kind of came probably within my second year of residency. And I was like, okay, I need to take control of what's happening in the situation in my life and with my patients. I think I just came to a point in my life where I knew that whatever I wanted, I needed to go for it myself and I needed to find the right people to help me be successful. And that's really what I did. My second or third year of residency, a mentor came back to Helen Devos at the time. Doctor Lisa Lowry and when she came back to Helen Devos, it was just what I needed. It was the oomph that I needed. It was the connection that I needed, the support I needed. And it allowed me to persevere through the rest of residency. But it also helped me find my voice because we almost like worked together on just everything that we needed to do to help start diversifying the Grand Rapids communities. So I think partnership, collaboration and having a person who had the same, almost like the same ideas as me really helped stimulate my passion and being able to move forward.

JM: Like minds because she was one of our powerful women not too long ago as well. So, that’s kind of exciting.

CS: Yes, yes, yeah.

JM: So we appreciate the work that you do. So as you look at that and what you're doing, what about your leadership traits and what are your styles? What do you like to see in people that are accompanying you on the journey or perhaps those you are mentoring or taken along under your wing?

CS: I'm really a very collaborative leader. I enjoy listening to my team. I really do listen more than I speak. That's one of, I just I think it's just one of my traits, but I find it to be really helpful. I like to listen to my team members. I like for us to come up with ideas together because I think if we come up with ideas and goals together, they’re actually going to happen versus me demanding it from the top down. And so I really enjoy being a collaborative leader with my team. We still make sure we get things done. There are times when I have to say, okay, this needs to or lets make this the priority. But my team supports me. My team has come along with me on this journey. So when I do this work in equity, for example, we have the health equity, you know, and leader scholars program, I have a team of people that have kind of brought along the way to help do that work. And it's been really fun, exposing them to the disparities in healthcare and why this is so needed. So those are just some of the things that when I think about leading, I like to lead a team and I like to lead with your input.

JM: And those on that journey, too, are just as invested as you are. Or because you brought them along with, and so they see the work and it's important to them as well.

CS: Yes. Yes.

JM: So tell me what inspired you to become a doctor then subsequently a pediatrician?

CS: Actually, when I was in 5th or 6th grade, we went to some program at, I think it was called Spectrum. It was here in Grand Rapids, but it was this experience where they were like pick a project and you worked on that project for like the whole semester, something like that. And I learned about neonatology, which is the specialty where they take care of premature babies. And I fell in love with medicine at a very young age. I knew I wanted to be a doctor. Now, I didn’t know what kind of doctor especially I wanted to be. But as I went to medical school, I was like, oh, I think I want to do OB. I thought I wanted to do women's health, especially after giving birth. I had a daughter when I was 21 and so I was like yeah, I want to take care of the women who went through this experience just like me. Especially the young single women who people feel like they just don't give them the same love and attention that they give to some of the populations. And so I really was like I want to take your single moms. But then along through that journey of residency, or medical school I should say, I fell in love with pediatrics. I love kids, I didn't realize I love kids. 101, I could not be a teacher and have to deal with 30 at a time. But I can do one.

JM: Haha, but you can do one.

CS: I can do one. I can do two. I can do some siblings too, but I couldn't do 30 or 40. So I fell in love with pediatrics and I fell in love, I think, really with parents in being able to connect with the parent any type of parent and just try to help them along the journey of the struggles of parenting, right? Because I think as parents, we feel this pressure to be perfect and that we have to really do everything the way the book says we have to take the bottle at 12 months in or our child is going to be ruined. You know what I mean, just little things that I think as pediatricians we say, that we add more pressure. So I enjoyed the specialty of pediatrics because it just gave me time to support people to be parents, to be okay with making mistakes. All of our kids are going to need therapy at some point, no matter how much you give them or how little you give him, right? We all need therapy. So that's, that's how I fell into pediatrics.

JM: I love that. We all need therapy.

CS: We do haha.

JM: So, so many women deal with, you know, those pressures you talk about, you know, being a parent, getting it all done, balancing the act of working and being a mom. How did you balance that work life? Because you have 4 children now. So you're still working.

CS: Yeah.

JM: And so how are you balancing the work life balance with family and friends and the like?

CS: Balance is hard. It's something that I probably struggle with regularly. I don't, I try not to let work overtake my evenings and my weekend's. I think that's really where I turn things off. I really try to keep my family really organized so that every day we know who's cooking. So I don't have those pressures, right? So I live in a multigenerational home. So there's 4 adults in the home, me, my husband and my parents. So on Monday my husband Cooks, on Tue-. So there's a different person who cooks every day. There's a different person who helps with the kids every day. And so that's really how I find my balance, is using my support system. But I also make it a point to have the evenings and weekends to myself. On weekends, I take my time to relax and watch TV. I love working out. So those are the things that help me find balance. And I don't mind, I’ve learned to be comfortable saying no.

JM: That’s huge.

CS: Yeah, I've learned to say that I’m not going to do that. Nope, that's going to interrupt my personal time. I'm not going to be gone more than one or 2 evenings during the week because I feel like that just disrupts me. It makes me feel like I'm not being a good parent just because I'm at home because my youngest kids or they’re 12 and 15 and I know that 5 years from now, they won't be around. You know, they won't be home as much so I’m trying to take advantage of this time while I have it.

JM: Absolutely. And again, that key also to help with that is that support system.

CS: Yeah, yeah.

JM: Easy breezy question for you. What makes you laugh?

CS: Oh gosh, I love reality TV. I probably laugh every time.

JM: Because it's so crazy?

CS: It’s just so crazy, yes! It’s just so unbelievable.

JM: And is it real?

CS: I guess not, but that's probably one of the things that makes me laugh. My 12 year old daughter makes me laugh. Her and my mom. So, my 12 year old daughter and mom are pretty much the same person.

JM: Oh that’s funny.

CS: So it’s just a joy to watch those two together and to be able to see that relationship. You know how many of us have, how many of us live with our grandparents and have an awesome relationship with our grandparents? SoI just love that. It probably makes me laugh the most.

JM: Absolutely. That's awesome. So much is happening in the world today. As we all know, people are often looking for that word of encouragement. Do you have a word, or a motto, or just something that you find that you use to encourage yourself or others along the way?

CS: I don't know. I probably do. There's something I think about all the time that keeps me stable and comfortable and it’s not to compare myself to other people, because I think the more we compare ourselves to other people, especially through social media and all the ways that we can, comparison just steals your joy. And so I really try to not compare myself. I just, I'm just comfortable in my skin. I'm just going to be who I am. If I want to wear jogging pants, then I’m gonna wear jogging pants. If I don’t want to get dressed up, then I’m not going to get dressed up, but if I want to be cute today, I might be cute today.

JM: Absolutely.

CS: But I'm just going to be comfortable in my own skin. Be happy with what I have. And I try to tell that to my kids to just, you know, especially my oldest daughter, you know, cause. I think our kids get caught up in comparing themselves to other people.

JM: Especially with social media.

CS: Oh, my friends are doing this and, you know, and I'm still not doing this. Just be happy where you are. You are where you are for a reason. And so I've just been very comfortable not comparing myself to the people and I hope other people can do that, too.

JM: My favorite line is enjoy where you're at on the way to where you're going.

CS: Yes!

JM: Because guess what? Social media can make you feel like your life, you know, like you're missing the boat. And you're like but I just did ABC, but then you look and you're like well. wow.

CS: Haha. Yeah.

JM: That's a good point to just kind of stay low and enjoy your life and what you’ve been blessed with.

CS: Yes, count your blessings. Just, just think about them.

JM: Absolutely.

CS: Because we have tons of things to be thankful for.

JM: We sure do. Dr. Candace Smith-King, such a pleasure having you here today. We really appreciate you. And I really enjoyed this conversation, catching up with you and finding out all that's happening. And I want to thank you, too, for joining us for another edition of Powerful Women: Let's Talk. I'm Jennifer Moss. We'll see you next time to enjoy it.


Produced by women, about women, these powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are, and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women: Let’s Talk? Get additional interviews at wgvu.org or wherever you get your podcast. Please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women: Let's Talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters, or Grand Valley State University.


Jennifer is an award winning broadcast news journalist with more than two decades of professional television news experience including the nation's fifth largest news market. She's worked as both news reporter and news anchor for television and radio in markets from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo all the way to San Francisco, California.
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