Faculty ProfilesAlexander Smith, MD, MPH
4150 Clement St
San Francisco, CA 94121
415-221-4810 ext. 4684
Alex Smith is a clinician-researcher who is at the forefront of efforts to integrate Geriatrics and Palliative Care. Dr. Smith received his medical school training in the UC Berkeley/UCSF Joint Medical Program. He completed a primary care internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) followed by two fellowships, a one-year clinical fellowship in Palliative Medicine at BWH and Dana Farber Cancer Institute, followed by a two-year General Internal Medicine Fellowship at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, including an MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Smith returned to UCSF in July 2008 as faculty in the Division of Geriatrics.
Dr. Smith's research program focuses on improving palliative care for vulnerable and dependent elders. He has strong interests in bioethics and improving patient-physician communication. He is currently funded by a Paul Beeson National Institute on Aging K23 career development award. Dr. Smith works clinically on the Hospice and Palliative Care Service at the SF VAMC. Dr. Smith and Dr. Eric Widera co-founded GeriPal, a Geriatrics and Palliative Care Blog, the leading source for news and commentary related to Geriatrics and Palliative Care on the web. GeriPal received nearly 2.5 million page views between 2009 and 2015. Also working with Dr. Widera and Drs. Sei Lee and Mara Schonberg, Dr. Smith launched ePrognosis, an online set of prognostic calculators for the elderly. ePrognosis had over half a million page views in the first week, and over 1 million between 2012 and 2015.
Dr. Smith is a general internist dually trained in palliative medicine and health services research, focused on integrating geriatrics and palliative care.
Dr. Smith's research is motivated by a recognition that the overwhelming need for palliative care services occurs in the elderly. Unfortunately, however, older persons are severely underrepresented both in the receipt of palliative care services and in palliative care research. This gap in our understanding exists for a reason: the challenges of studying palliative care needs in frail elders with multiple diagnoses, and frequently with functional and cognitive impairment, are much more complicated than studying these needs in younger patients with cancer. Dr. Smith embraces the challenge of research in this complex area.
While Dr. Smith is broadly interested in issues at the intersection of geriatrics and palliative care, his research has largely been organized around three primary areas: end-of-life experiences, patient-doctor communication, and cultural attitudes toward care. In a series of studies examining a nationally representative group of older adults who died, Dr. Smith demonstrated that: (1) pain due to arthritis is under-recognized in the last years of life; (2) lengths of stay in nursing homes for patients who die are shorter than generally appreciated (median 5 months, average 14 months); and (3) emergency departments and skilled nursing facilities are common sites of care in the last months of life and should be a focus of efforts to improve the quality of palliative care. Dr. Smith has a strong interest in understanding how cultural factors influence the perspectives and experiences of patients with serious illness or disability and their families. For example, in a recent study, Dr. Smith found that two-thirds of Chinese American, African American, Latino, and white elders with disability would want to be told their prognosis if they had less than 5 years left to live. He therefore argues that clinicians should offer to discuss prognosis with their very elderly patients, both because it allows for more informed medical decision making and because many patients want to know so they can prepare for the future.
Dr. Smith's primary clinical work is on the Hospice and Palliative Care service at the SF VAMC. In this capacity, he consults on the management of patients with palliative care needs in the hospital and cares for patients who reside in the hospice facility located within the Community Living Center.
Education and Training
|Location||Degree or Training||Specialty||Date|
|Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center||Fellowship||General Internal Medicine||2008|
|Brigham and Women's Hospital/Dana Farber Cancer Institute||Fellowship||Palliative Medicine||2006|
|Brigham and Women's Hospital||Residency||Primary Care Internal Medicine||2005|
|Harvard University||MPH||School of Public Health||2005|
|University of California, San Francisco||M.D.||Medicine||2002|
|University of California, Berkeley||M.S.||School of Public Health||1999|
|University of Michigan||BS||Cellular and Molecular Biology||1996|
Clinic, Community-based organization, Decision aids, Hospital, Older adults, Persons with physical disability, Prognosis in medical decision making in the elderlyAwards and Honors
Eprognosis awarded Product of the Decade, Reynolds Foundation, 2016
PDIA National Leadership Award, Project on Death in America, 2014
Research Mentor of the Year, Medical Students in Aging Research, 2013
Paul Beeson Career Development Award In Geriatrics, American Federation for Aging Research/NIA, 2012-2017
One of "50 Best Medical Professors on Twitter", OnlineColleges.com, 2012
Best Paper of the Year Award, Society of General Internal Medicine, 2012
Top Reviewer, Annals of Internal Medicine, 2012
Greenwall Faculty Scholar in Bioethics, Greenwall Foundation, 2010-2014
Outstanding Resident Mentor Award, Brigham and Women's Hospital, 2004-2005
Phi Beta Kappa, University of Michigan, 1996
Related Web Sites
- Profile at medicine.ucsf.edu
- Estimating Prognosis for Elders
- GeriPal: A Geriatrics and Palliative Care Blog
In the News
- Ill, Older Patients Who Rely on Emergency Room Often Live Final Days in Hospital, Study Finds (Jun 04, 2012)
- Dignity, Sense of Control Keys to Quality of Life for Disabled Elderly, Study Finds (Feb 08, 2012)
- New Web Resource Helps Doctors Assess Life Expectancy of Older Patients (Jan 11, 2012)
- Many Disabled Seniors Want to Discuss Long-Term Prognosis with Their Doctors (Dec 14, 2011)
- Doctors Should Routinely Discuss Life Expectancy with Elderly Patients, Physicians Recommend (Dec 07, 2011)
Recent Articles (66)
Wong TW, Lang-Brown S, Romo RD, Au-Yeung A, Lee SJ, Moran PJ, Karlawish J, Sudore R, Clayton J, Smith AK. Prognosis Communication in Late-Life Disability: A Mixed Methods Study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017 Nov; 65(11):2496-2501.
Whitlock EL, Diaz-Ramirez LG, Glymour MM, Boscardin WJ, Covinsky KE, Smith AK. Association Between Persistent Pain and Memory Decline and Dementia in a Longitudinal Cohort of Elders. JAMA Intern Med. 2017 Aug 01; 177(8):1146-1153.
Bleijenberg N, Smith AK, Lee SJ, Cenzer IS, Boscardin JW, Covinsky KE. Difficulty Managing Medications and Finances in Older Adults: A 10-year Cohort Study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017 Jul; 65(7):1455-1461.
Harrison KL, Adrion ER, Ritchie CS, Sudore RL, Smith AK. Low Completion and Disparities in Advance Care Planning Activities Among Older Medicare Beneficiaries. JAMA Intern Med. 2016 Dec 01; 176(12):1872-1875.
Smith AK, Currow DC, Abernethy AP, Johnson MJ, Miao Y, Boscardin WJ, Ritchie CS. Prevalence and Outcomes of Breathlessness in Older Adults: A National Population Study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2016 Oct; 64(10):2035-2041.
Ritchie CS, Kelley AS, Stijacic Cenzer I, Smith AK, Wallhagen ML, Covinsky KE. High Levels of Geriatric Palliative Care Needs in Hip Fracture Patients Before the Hip Fracture. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2016 10; 52(4):533-538.
Cenzer IS, Tang V, Boscardin WJ, Smith AK, Ritchie C, Wallhagen MI, Espaldon R, Covinsky KE. One-Year Mortality After Hip Fracture: Development and Validation of a Prognostic Index. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2016 Sep; 64(9):1863-8.
Cagle JG, McClymont KM, Thai JN, Smith AK. "If You Don't Know, All of a Sudden, They're Gone": Caregiver Perspectives About Prognostic Communication for Disabled Elderly Adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2016 Jun; 64(6):1299-306.
Barnhart C, McClymont K, Smith AK, Au-Yeung A, Lee SJ. "Everyone else gets ice cream here more often than I do--It burns me up"--Perspectives on Diabetes Care from Nursing Home Residents and their Doctors. BMC Geriatr. 2016 Jan 26; 16:28.
Hunt LJ, Covinsky KE, Yaffe K, Stephens CE, Miao Y, Boscardin WJ, Smith AK. Pain in Community-Dwelling Older Adults with Dementia: Results from the National Health and Aging Trends Study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2015 Aug; 63(8):1503-11.
Thai JN, Barnhart CE, Cagle J, Smith AK. "It Just Consumes Your Life": Quality of Life for Informal Caregivers of Diverse Older Adults With Late-Life Disability. Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2016 Aug; 33(7):644-50.
Rogers SE, Thrasher AD, Miao Y, Boscardin WJ, Smith AK. Discrimination in Healthcare Settings is Associated with Disability in Older Adults: Health and Retirement Study, 2008-2012. J Gen Intern Med. 2015 Oct; 30(10):1413-20.
Kelley AS, Langa KM, Smith AK, Cagle J, Ornstein K, Silveira MJ, Nicholas L, Covinsky KE, Ritchie CS. Leveraging the health and retirement study to advance palliative care research. J Palliat Med. 2014 May; 17(5):506-11.
Thai JN, Walter LC, Eng C, Smith AK. Every patient is an individual: clinicians balance individual factors when discussing prognosis with diverse frail elderly adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2013 Feb; 61(2):264-9.
Romo RD, Wallhagen MI, Yourman L, Yeung CC, Eng C, Micco G, Pérez-Stable EJ, Smith AK. Perceptions of successful aging among diverse elders with late-life disability. Gerontologist. 2013 Dec; 53(6):939-49.
Aragon K, Covinsky K, Miao Y, Boscardin WJ, Flint L, Smith AK. Use of the Medicare posthospitalization skilled nursing benefit in the last 6 months of life. Arch Intern Med. 2012 Nov 12; 172(20):1573-9.
Smith AK, McCarthy E, Weber E, Cenzer IS, Boscardin J, Fisher J, Covinsky K. Half of older Americans seen in emergency department in last month of life; most admitted to hospital, and many die there. Health Aff (Millwood). 2012 Jun; 31(6):1277-85.
King J, Yourman L, Ahalt C, Eng C, Knight SJ, Pérez-Stable EJ, Smith AK. Quality of life in late-life disability: "I don't feel bitter because I am in a wheelchair". J Am Geriatr Soc. 2012 Mar; 60(3):569-76.
Smith AK, Ayanian JZ, Covinsky KE, Landon BE, McCarthy EP, Wee CC, Steinman MA. Conducting high-value secondary dataset analysis: an introductory guide and resources. J Gen Intern Med. 2011 Aug; 26(8):920-9.
Kelly A, Conell-Price J, Covinsky K, Cenzer IS, Chang A, Boscardin WJ, Smith AK. Length of stay for older adults residing in nursing homes at the end of life. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010 Sep; 58(9):1701-6.
Smith AK, Schonberg MA, Fisher J, Pallin DJ, Block SD, Forrow L, McCarthy EP. Emergency department experiences of acutely symptomatic patients with terminal illness and their family caregivers. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2010 Jun; 39(6):972-81.
Smith AK, Fisher J, Schonberg MA, Pallin DJ, Block SD, Forrow L, Phillips RS, McCarthy EP. Am I doing the right thing? Provider perspectives on improving palliative care in the emergency department. Ann Emerg Med. 2009 Jul; 54(1):86-93, 93.e1.
Smith AK, McCarthy EP, Paulk E, Balboni TA, Maciejewski PK, Block SD, Prigerson HG. Racial and ethnic differences in advance care planning among patients with cancer: impact of terminal illness acknowledgment, religiousness, and treatment preferences. J Clin Oncol. 2008 Sep 01; 26(25):4131-7.
Smith AK, Ladner D, McCarthy EP. Racial/ethnic disparities in liver transplant surgery and hospice use: parallels, differences, and unanswered questions. Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2008 Aug-Sep; 25(4):285-91.
Smith AK, Davis RB, Krakauer EL. Differences in the quality of the patient-physician relationship among terminally ill African-American and white patients: impact on advance care planning and treatment preferences. J Gen Intern Med. 2007 Nov; 22(11):1579-82.
Smith AK, Buss MK, Giansiracusa DF, Block SD. On being fired: experiences of patient-initiated termination of the patient-physician relationship in palliative medicine. J Palliat Med. 2007 Aug; 10(4):938-47.