Champion bodybuilder is anesthesiologist by day

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susan smith sizedSusan Smith, M.D., assistant professor of anesthesiology, has been an athlete for most of her life. Her passion for track and field was so strong she was training for the Olympic trials, but an injury kept her from competing for the national team. Fortunately, she found another passion in bodybuilding.

“I’d always followed the sport, and the transition from track and field to physique competitions was very natural since both demand a high level of strength and physical fitness,” Smith said.

Her hard work paid off in November when she won the National Physique Committee Nationals, an amateur competition, and earned her International Federation of Bodybuilders professional card.

Smith, who had always known she wanted to go to medical school, first pursued surgery but found anesthesiology to be a better fit and changed her specialty during her residency in 2008. Smith came to UAB in 2012 as an instructor of anesthesiology and was promoted to assistant professor in 2013.

“I came to Birmingham expressly to work at UAB, and after more than two years I have no regrets,” Smith said. “It’s a great place to work, and I can honestly say that I’ve met people here who will remain friends for my lifetime.”

As a faculty member in the Anesthesia Services Division, Smith is responsible for planning and supervising the anesthetic for most surgical procedures. She said her boss Tony Jones, M.D., professor of anesthesiology, has been supportive of her goals. She also said she feels there is a strong tie between her work at UAB and her participation in bodybuilding.

“I believe that there is a strong connection between health and total body wellness and ability to perform and excel in other areas,” Smith said. “My ability to perform on an elite level as an athlete makes me a better physician.”

Smith has competed in four shows as a bodybuilder, beginning in 2011, and has won three overall titles. She begins training for a competition 20 weeks before the show and commits to up to two hours of cardio and two hours of weightlifting every day. But, Smith said, her workouts are less intense during routine weeks, only lifting weights four to five times a week for an hour and doing 40 minutes of cardio three times per week.

“My workouts vary based on how I look and what improvements or changes my trainer and I feel I need to make as the competition approaches,” Smith said. “Most of how I look has to do with what I eat and when I eat it. Water is essential to my diet, and I drink at least a gallon per day.”

Winning the national competition was the culmination of a seven-year journey for Smith, who set the goal in 2007. She works with a trainer and with a nutritionist to ensure she safely meets her goals.

“While the rigors of residency precluded my getting on stage, I continued to train nearly every day,” Smith said.

Smith said her bigger goal was to earn the right to compete as a professional, and her win in November enabled her to do that.

“When I won my class, I was both happy and relieved,” Smith said. “It’s hard to describe the feeling after hearing I’d won the overall national title. It really was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. It’s rare in ones life to be able to call yourself a national champion, and I’m so grateful to be able to do so.”