COLUMBIA, SC – William F. Schmidt III, who helped create Greenville Health System’s nationally-recognized Children’s Hospital almost 30 years ago, was awarded the Order of the Palmetto today (May 3) in ceremonies held at the statehouse.
The Order of the Palmetto is South Carolina’s highest civilian honor.
“I’m humbled and honored by this award, but it really represents the work of many people in many different areas of expertise and service over many years,” said Schmidt, MD, PhD, a beloved Greenville icon. He was recruited to GHS in 1990 as medical director of what would become GHS Children’s Hospital. The pediatric cancer specialist, known for his tireless advocacy on behalf of children, grew the program from a few general pediatric practices to a pediatric academic center of excellence that provides primary and specialty care for 500,000 children yearly.
“Our goal has always been to provide children with access to quality health care as close to home as possible,” he said.
During his 27-year tenure as medical director, he created an academic health center with 40 pediatric medical and surgical specialties. GHS Children’s Hospital also has the most advanced trauma center for children in the Upstate, as well as the most advanced neonatal intensive care unit and most advanced pediatric intensive care unit. It has the Upstate’s only pediatric cancer center, which Schmidt, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist, partnered with BI-LO Charities to expand even further. His work with community partners like the Clement’s Kindness Foundation also helped create Camp Courage, a summer camp for children with cancer and blood-related diseases.
Schmidt is the founding president of the South Carolina Children’s Hospital Collaborative. The collaborative brings together the four S.C. children’s hospitals to advocate for children’s health care needs in the state.
“Dr. William Schmidt has been a mentor and inspirational leader to so many. He is, most importantly, loved by the many patients and their families that he has treated. Dr. Schmidt saved so many lives – and changed even more,” said Linda Brees, who is director of the Bradshaw Institute for Community Child Health & Advocacy. Brees nominated him for the prestigious Order of the Palmetto on behalf of the S.C. Children’s Hospital Collaborative.
“Dr. Schmidt’s leadership and vision has not only been felt in the Upstate but continues to be felt across our wonderful state,” said Brees. “This recommendation for the Order of the Palmetto comes from children and families in his care, physicians he has trained and led, employees inspired by his leadership, students who have chosen a health care career because of his encouragement and the many citizens of South Carolina who have benefitted from having exceptional health care.”
“More than anyone I’ve ever met, Dr. Schmidt understood that children aren’t just miniature adults, and that caring for them also meant caring for their entire families,” said Brees.
Under his guidance, Children’s Hospital brought on psychosocial support experts such as Child Life specialists, psychologists, social workers, specially trained chaplains, supportive care teams – and even musicians and therapy dogs – to help families in difficult times.
Training the next generation of physicians was critically important to him, and, under his leadership, the Children’s Hospital-involved pediatric residency has grown to be ranked among the nation’s top programs. The residency program attracts great young physicians, many of whom opt to settle in Greenville after their training is complete.
“I wanted these doctors to fall in love with Greenville and stay here, not only to practice but to raise their own families,” said Schmidt, who often says that he and wife, Jean, “fell into a bowl of cream” when they found Greenville.
Eric Ring knew Schmidt as his doctor long before he knew him as a teacher. Ring was 14 and diagnosed with leukemia when he met Schmidt, who helped care for him. Ring, who went into medicine, trained as a resident under Schmidt and is now an assistant professor of hematology and oncology in Augusta, Ga.
“As my doctor, Dr. Schmidt showed me how to be a thoughtful physician,” said Ring. “As my teacher, Dr. Schmidt showed me how to be an efficient and thorough physician. As a colleague, Dr. Schmidt has shown me how to be a conscientious and committed physician.”
Said R. Caughman Taylor, MD, the president of the S.C. Children’s Hospital Collaborative and a senior associate dean at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, “Dr. Schmidt’s passion for children and his advocacy on behalf of South Carolina children have left our state a much better place. With his leadership and dedication, the GHS Children became a cutting-edge comprehensive medical center that has provided state- of-the-art care to thousands of children. I was fortunate to count him as a mentor and partner in pediatrics – but more so to have him as a friend.”
Community partnership has always been important to Schmidt, who not only created a Children’s Hospital Development Council to advocate for children but helped found the Center for Developmental Services, Institute for Child Success and a high-school student mentoring internship program that encouraged students to pursue health care careers.
Schmidt played a critical role in improving pediatric health care but also in showing the community how it could help. Under his leadership, GHS’ largest legacy gift, from William and Annette Bradshaw, created the Bradshaw Institute, which aims to improve the well-being of all children in S.C. through innovative education and prevention programs, clinical research and academic partnerships.
Schmidt and his wife donated $1 million in 2014 to create the Children’s Hospital Seed Fund for Advanced Pediatrics.
While Schmidt remains very active in children’s advocacy, his position within GHS has changed. He’s now vice president of development for the GHS Health Sciences Center and is physician leader for GHS’ Office of Philanthropy and Partnership.
“My professional goal has always been simple: let’s do good things for kids,” said Schmidt. “I’m proud of the many good things our team has done, and I’m excited to see the even bigger things that are coming in the future.”