Carol Ann Smith knew she wanted to touch the lives of others when she obtained her nursing degree from St. Scholastica in 1978.
Thirty-five years later, Smith is being acknowledged for the countless lives she has affected with her compassion and unwavering dedication as a professional who has advanced the understanding and support of traumatic brain injuries in patients and their families.
“This is my career, but it’s also my life. It’s much more than my job; it’s who I am and what I do, and I’m very passionate that our patients can get the best care that they can and getting them hooked up with services,” Smith said.
Smith was awarded the Elinor D. Hands Outstanding Achievement Award at the Minnesota’s Brain Alliance 28th Annual Conference on April 11.
“It means a lot to me that I got that award because I know (Elinor) and I know the journey she has gone through with one of her loved ones who sustained traumatic brain injury, and I kind of walked that path with her for a while,” Smith said. “I’m honored that people think I reflect that spirit.”
Accomplished in her field, Smith exemplifies the spirit of a trailblazer. She has been employed at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis for the duration of her career and has held multiple neuroscience nursing roles that have required her to be a mentor, educator and counselor to hundreds of patients and their families.
Smith’s job has required that she counsel families on whether their loved ones will survive their injuries or not, and if so, what they should expect for care and rehabilitation. This has required an endless devotion to coordinating the best possible care for her patients and their families.
Executive Director David King of the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance described Smith’s innate ability to work in her passion when presenting her with her achievement.
“Whether they were a critically injured patient … or the numerous professionals whom she has mentored along their own journey, Carol Ann has left her own stamp on the hearts and souls of each one of them,” King said.
In 2006, HCMC opened a dedicated traumatic brain injury center. Smith was selected as the program coordinator and has been since working in that role. The center is No. 1 in the state for admitting brain injuries and admitted 998 patients last year alone.
After being appointed by the commissioner of the Department of Human Services, Smith just finished serving the maximum of two three-year terms on the Minnesota Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Committee, where she discussed brain injury awareness and prevention in legislation. She lobbied for the passage of child restraint laws and hockey regulation.
Smith uses this passion to give presentations locally, regionally and national on traumatic brain injury and in her role of providing community outreach. She uses a “brain bar” booth to teach the public on brain injury and how to prevent one. Smith said taking simple precautions like wearing a bike helmet, a seat belt and being careful on a ladder are little ways you can lower your risk of brain injury.
It is evident that Smith, a 1974 graduate of Cambridge High School and current resident of Cambridge, is in a role that allows her to do what she set out to do, and has done — touch the lives of other people.
“I love what I do, I’m very passionate,” Smith said. “I want to do the work that I’m doing; it’s really a part of my heart.”