Remembering Dr. James P. Smith, Jr., Prominent Pulmonologist

The Weill Department of Medicine is deeply saddened by the loss of Dr. James P. Smith, Jr., who passed away last week. A renowned, long-time member of our faculty, Dr. Smith helped pioneer the research and treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), lung cancer, and tuberculosis. A key clinical breakthrough, along with celebrated pulmonologist Dr. Lawrence Scharer, was developing the use of closed pleural biopsy with the Abrams needle in the diagnosis of tuberculosis. Dr. Smith was also among the first to recognize the existence of isoniazid-induced hepatitis.

After receiving his M.D. from Georgetown University School of Medicine in 1960, Dr. Smith began his residency at New York Hospital. From 1962 to 1964, Dr. Smith served as Assistant Chief of Medicine in the U.S. Army, 79th Engineer Battalion, in Pirmasens, Germany. Upon return from active duty, Dr. Smith finished his fellowship in 1966. He studied under Dr. Carl Muschenheim, a preeminent researcher on lung disease and tuberculosis.

Together with colleagues in the Departments of Radiology and Thoracic Surgery, Dr. Smith founded the Early Lung Cancer Action Project, an annual screening conference Dr. Smith moderated for more than 25 years. It has since evolved into an international, multi-institution initiative (now known as I-ELCAP). Dr. Smith’s seminal work on COPD and respiratory failure aligned with the view that limiting the fraction of inspired oxygen concentration to the lowest number possible to achieve adequate oxygenation improved outcomes. When extracorporeal membrane oxygenation was developed, Dr. Smith was among the first to use it.

From 1967 until 1984, he served as Medical Director of the Respiratory Intensive Care Unit at what is currently NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. His long tenure of service and extraordinary expertise earned Dr. Smith a national reputation as one of the most respected pulmonologists in the New York City region. In addition to his remarkable clinical contributions, Dr. Smith was a beloved teacher and mentor to interns, residents and fellows alike.

A Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Dr. Smith served on numerous committees and boards, including the Boards of the American Lung Association in New York, the American Lung Association, and the American Thoracic Society. A past president of the American Lung Association in New York, Dr. Smith remained active in the organization for many years. A dedicated public servant, Dr. Smith also held leadership roles in the New York State Thoracic Society and NewYork-Presbyterian’s Thoracic Tumor Board.

In 2002, the Weill Department of Medicine established the James P. Smith, M.D. Clinical Scholar Award as an endowed position in recognition of his outstanding work advancing the institution’s clinical and research missions and growing the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. He will be dearly missed by friends and colleagues. He is survived by three children and 10 grandchildren.

Viewing will be held on Monday, April 1, 2024, from 4 to 8 p.m. at O’Brien Funeral Home, Wall, NJ. A Mass of Catholic burial will be celebrated on Tuesday, April 2, 2024, at 10 a.m. at St. Mary’s Church of Our Lady of Hope Parish, Deal, NJ. Burial to follow at St. Catharine’s Cemetery, Sea Girt, NJ.

Donations may be made to the NewYork-Presbyterian Fund noting “Medical CAC - in memory of Dr. James P. Smith.” The CAC provides funding for patient care, research, humanitarian, and educational projects.

Related Links: In Memoriam

Dr. Fernando J. Martinez
Chief, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine

Dr. John Leonard
Chair (Interim), Joan and Sanford I. Weill Department of Medicine