For Dr. Jason Smithers, Good EATS Is the Goal

Smithers knew since junior high school that he wanted to pursue a career as a surgeon. The director of the Esophageal and Airway Treatment Service (EATS) program talks about how his love of science and desire to help others helped inspire his path, and what a typical day looks like.

Jason Smithers, M.D., with patient baby Saylor at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital
Published in Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital - Summer 2021

Jason Smithers, M.D., is a highly skilled surgeon with a reputation for treating the most complex esophageal and airway issues in children. He is dedicated to his craft – but who knew he is also a fan of Taco Bell and skydiving?

Tell us a little about what you do, and what led you to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. 

I am a pediatric surgeon who specializes in operative and long-term management of esophageal and airway anomalies, both congenital and acquired, and am director of our Esophageal and Airway Treatment Service (EATS) program. I also work as a surgeon and critical care physician with Dr. David Kays as part of the Center for Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH). I originally moved from Boston Children’s Hospital to the program here in 2019 to join Dr. Kays and learn about the phenomenal results that he has with the CDH program. Given my focused expertise with the EAT program in Boston, I have also been building this new program here. The move has worked very well for my family and became a permanent one.

What is a typical day like for you? 

I start the day with rounds in the CDH ICU, and Dr. Kays and I game plan for the day along with the rest of the CDH team regarding any procedures, newborn deliveries, or other clinical items that will be going on that day. I then round throughout the hospital for patients on the EAT service and collaborate with the various ICUs where these patients are recovering including the PICU, CVICU, and NICU. I often then have OR procedures throughout the day for patients in these programs. 

What personal qualities do you possess that help you to excel in your area of expertise?

Primarily attention to detail and determination to strive for the most perfect results possible, even for problems that don’t necessarily have well defined techniques to solve them. Constant review of the precise problems, the current techniques, and the short- and long-term outcomes lead to ongoing improvements in our approach to all aspects of care for these patients. 

Was there a special moment, early in your schooling or training, where you received real clarity on what you wanted to do with your career or life in general?

As early as junior high school, I was committed to going to medical school with the goal of becoming a surgeon. My stepfather was a surgical assistant (PA) in Detroit at the time. I already knew that I loved science; I loved his stories about surgical procedures; and I knew I wanted a career centered on helping others. It has worked out to be the perfect fit. As I went through medical school, loving both pediatrics and surgery, then pediatric surgery became the obvious goal for me. As I went through surgical training, I’ve always been drawn to treating problems that were difficult and for which consistent good outcomes were elusive. 

What does a “day off” look like for you? 

Playing with my kids, and doing whatever helps support my wife, Jess. 

Would you consider yourself an introvert, an extrovert, or neither? 

I am both at different times. 

Does your deep knowledge and understanding of esophageal issues inform your personal diet? Do you have a favorite “guilty pleasure” snack or meal?

Not really. I like Taco Bell, pretty much anything from there. Our goal in treating kids with esophageal problems is to get them to the point where they can eat any type of food they choose. Being a surgeon is not necessarily a very healthy lifestyle. Sleep patterns become all messed up. Eating habits with food at work are not always the best. Tom Brady would not approve.

What would surprise people to know about you? 

I love surfing, snowboarding, motorcycles and skydiving, most of which Jess is not a big fan of…

Tell us about your pets.

We have a golden doodle puppy named Rosie, our “third child” following Emma (9) and Ben (7). She pretty much goes wherever we go as a family and gets serious separation anxiety if Jess isn’t within touching distance.

What is funny to you? 

British comedy shows, most anything with SNL or actors/actresses from SNL, most any skit by Key and Peele.