Ellen Smith joins faculty

Named Marie O’Koren Endowed Chair in Nursing and Associate Dean for Research and Scholarship

Photo: Ellen SmithBy Erica Techo
Ellen M. Lavoie Smith, PhD, RN, AOCN, FAAN, has joined the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing as Assistant Dean for Research and Scholarship and Marie O’Koren Endowed Chair in Nursing. She is also a Professor in the Department of Acute, Chronic and Continuing Care.

Smith comes to the UAB School of Nursing from the University of Michigan School of Nursing, bringing with her a strong history of extramural funding from numerous sources, including multiple R01 grants from the National Institutes of Health, as well as research funding from foundation and industry sponsors. Smith’s program of research is focused on improving the assessment and treatment of chronic, cancer-related neuropathic pain, with a specialty focus on chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.

She currently leads a six-year, $2.3 million R01 grant from the National Cancer Institute for a Phase II-III trial to test the balanced serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor duloxetine to prevent chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy through the multi-site Alliance National Cancer Institute-funded Cooperative Group network. Embedded within the R01, Smith also is studying the efficacy of a patient-targeted video that informs study participants about patient-reported outcomes, data collection and how electronic data submission is helpful. The goal of the study is to see if patient education, and the video, can lead to a higher uptake of electronic data submission, rather than pen and paper submission.

“I’m excited about this study because not only is it addressing big questions we haven’t addressed before, but here at UAB it will allow me to establish partners and build relationships across the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center all at once,” Smith said. “That will tee us up to do bigger collaborative studies related to neuropathy.”

She also is involved in other current studies, including as a co-investigator on a National Cancer Institute study to manage fatigue and pain following treatment for head and neck cancer, and a natural history study of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.

<pSmith’s research is internationally recognized for being revolutionary in identifying non-opioid therapy for the life-altering complication of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, for which there is no known cure. She was the principal investigator for a National Cancer Institute-funded multi-site randomized placebo-controlled trial to test duloxetine as a treatment and, as a result of her work, it is now the only treatment recommended by the American Society of Clinical Oncology. It also addresses the National Cancer Institute’s goal to minimize cancer treatment-associated side effects and the priority recommendation outlined in the National Academy of Medicine’s Report on Pain in America regarding the need for non-opioid pain treatments.

“UAB is a research-intensive university with strong research-related infrastructure, including the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center,” Smith said. “UAB and the School of Nursing are environments focusing on underrepresented individuals, and I plan to expand my science into health disparities. I knew that was possible here, that I would have access to people that I could help and make a difference in their lives.”

As Assistant Dean, Smith also is excited about the opportunity to help grow the services of the School’s Office of Research and Scholarship, including mentoring pre-and post-doctoral scholars, as well as early career faculty. 

“I wanted to take a position where I could be in a leadership role and help build or grow infrastructure that supports research and scholarship,” she said. “I am also very committed to mentoring people, and that is part of my job description. Helping people get established, find their niche, guiding others in how to lead—I love all of that. The position of assistant dean is perfect for what I plan to do.”

“I’m incredibly excited to be here, and I see so much potential not just in my science, but also in my connections in the School and University, and with faculty, trainees, students,” Smith said. “I am really enjoying the people, the resources, the culture, and working with an amazing leadership group. This is an incredible place, and the overarching dedication of everyone here is palpable.”

“We welcome Dr. Ellen Smith to UAB and the School of Nursing with her well-matched program of clinical research and extensive mentoring expertise,” said UAB School of Nursing Dean and Fay B. Ireland Endowed Chair in Nursing Doreen C. Harper, PhD, RN, FAAN. “The global impact of her scientific work in cancer, pain, drug discovery and peripheral neuropathy that improves symptom control of peripheral neuropathy is novel among nurse scientists. Her collaborations with the O’Neil Comprehensive Cancer Center, among others, will continue to advance tailored intervention research on peripheral neuropathy that improves health disparities and permits functional recovery when possible.”

Smith is a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and is a member of numerous professional societies and committees, including the Oncology Nursing Society, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Nurses Association, Neuropathy in Cancer Patients Clinical Guideline Committee, American Society of Clinical Oncology Clinical Guidelines Committee, and she is the only nurse member of the International Peripheral Nerve Society Toxic Neuropathy Consortium Board of Directors.

She holds editorial positions, is on editorial boards or is a peer-reviewer for numerous journals, including Cancer, Cancer Nursing, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Journal of Cancer Education, Journal of Pain and Symptom Management and European Journal of Oncology Nursing.

Smith has received national recognition for her work, including the prestigious 2019 Fellows of the National Institute of Nursing Research Welch/Woerner Path Paver Award, as well as the Oncology Nursing Society Excellence in Writing Award for Quantitative Nursing Research, Harriet Werley New Investigator Award from the Midwestern Nursing Research Society and New Investigator Award from the Oncology Nursing Society.

Prior to joining the University of Michigan School of Nursing, where she also was director of the school’s PhD program, Smith was an assistant professor at Dartmouth Medical School. Before moving into academia, Smith practiced oncology nursing at several academic medical centers and health care organizations, including Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and The Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

Smith earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Vermont, Master of Science in Nursing and Post-Master’s Nurse Practitioner Certificate from the University of New Hampshire and PhD from the University of Utah.

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