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Dance Alum Pivots to Caring for COVID-19 Patients in NYC

School of Theatre & Dance alum, Brent Smith joins the health force in New York City to care for COVID-19 patients.

University of Houston College of Theater & Dance Alumni, Brent Smith, went on to earn his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Long Island University-Brooklyn.  His positive aura and tireless work help his patients thrive as they work towards rehabilitation. Smith had to pivot from physical therapist to ER hospital staff with Covid-19 patients as the hospitals began filling up in New York City.

Looking back on his time at the University of Houston, Brent Smith remarked on his fond memories of working with Professor Karen Stokes “She’s such a gem for the School of Theater & Dance, and the department. She’s done so much for me.”

Karen Stokes, head of the dance program for the School of Theater & Dance, enthusiastically shared "Working with Brent Smith, both as a student at the University of Houston and as a ‘triple threat’ in my own professional work post-graduation, was sheer joy.  He is one of the best performers I have ever worked with, smoothly crossing between skills in dance, theater, and music.”

Brent gave us insight into how his training as a professional dancer and years of experience in musical theater have helped shape him into the Physical Therapist he is today. “I have always worked with others in a physical sense,” said Smith, “One of the things I loved most in dance was partnering. That interaction you experience with somebody through touch and through physicality…. the expression of emotion through touch. I love the model of physical therapy in that we get one on one time with patients, I am able to express myself and help my patients none verbally through that expression of touch.”

Smith explained the direct correlation from his work in the arts to what he does now as a clinician. “I definitely draw from my background as a performer”, Smith said, “One of the great things about being a performer is you inherently have to build empathy into your being, because you are constantly putting yourself in others’ shoes. I am more comfortable working with patients from all segments of life, because I have allowed myself to put on so many different pairs of shoes through the years.”

The recent Covid-19 outbreak turned Smith’s world upside-down. “I work at an Orthopedic Hospital, so we do elective orthopedic surgeries. When all of this started, the Governor shut down all elective surgeries.  Our institution was very proactive and we became an overflow hospital for New York Presbyterian. We quickly opened our covid ICU.”

The pivot to caring for Covid-19 patients was a jolt, but Smith took on new roles and responsibilities in stride. “My daily duties were changed in the blink of an eye… I quickly converted over and started working in the Covid ICU, as well as with all of our intensive critical care patients.” The disease left his patients debilitated, but he never lost sight of the value of his work. “At the end of the day you’re still there helping people,” he said, “it was very rewarding.”

Smith drew a direct connection between his career in physical therapy and his artistic endeavors when he said, “I would not be the physical therapist I am today if I didn’t have all those years performing”.