The Physician-Author: A Q+A with Paulette Smart-Mackey ‘88

Antonia Gentile
October 26, 2023
Pace University's Chemistry alum Paulette Smart

Paulette Smart-Mackey

Class of 1988

Bachelor of Science in Chemistry

Paulette Smart-Mackey is a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, transformational coach, and mentor who is passionate about early learning. To this end, she has recently published a book, Meet Skulle, which helps children explore their natural curiosity for the science of the human body.

What inspired you to write this book and what do you hope your readers will gather from it?

Pace University's Chemistry alum Paulette Smart's book Meet Skulle

When my daughter was in elementary school, she was very curious about science and wanted to learn more about naming the bones in the human body. One day when she was in first grade, she asked me to come to school during a community session to teach her friends what she had already been learning. The administration allowed it, and it became an annual event which lasted through the fourth grade. When the pandemic occurred, my daughter inspired me to author Meet Skulle.

It is my hope that readers who are connected to a curious child will garner that learning complex topics can be accomplished at any age. My observations have been that, when children learn something new, their posture is more upright, and their eyes gleam. In them, I see the look of confidence in a future generation of leaders, and I wanted to share this “knowledge with confidence” theme with my readers.

Prior to attending medical school at The State University of New York at Buffalo, you earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the Pleasantville campus at Pace University. What attracted you to pursue a degree in chemistry? Did you always know you wanted to be a physician?

Pursuing a degree in chemistry came from the very analytical person within me who loves math and science, and chemistry seemed to combine these two passions. I knew I wanted to be a doctor from preschool age, and I confirmed my instincts by later volunteering and working in pharmacy stock rooms at area hospitals in order to be in the medical environment. I also engaged with disabled children in group homes and really enjoyed working and caring for people and being in the hospital community. I was inspired to specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation by my medical school mentor and have found that caring for patients in a team setting, and addressing their medical, social, psychological, and physical needs, to name a few, is a thrill for me. Today, I use my medical platform to coach on health, wellness, and electrodiagnosis, and, recently, write this scientific book for youngsters.

Why did you choose to enroll at Pace?

My initial impulse was to enroll at Pace due to the close proximity to my home; however, as I was very focused on going to medical school, I was also excited to learn about the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences. I really enjoyed the curriculum, including the core courses and electives, which both prepared me for the medical school entry exam and provided a well-rounded exploration of other interests outside of the sciences, which is something that is a bit more difficult to do within the focused lens of medical school.

How have faculty been instrumental in your journey?

So many Dyson professors helped me collectively. My biology, chemistry, math, science, and science lab professors poured knowledge into me, pointed out my weaknesses, and helped me build confidence in the path I had chosen. My curriculum advisor helped to keep me focused. My history teacher demanded excellence in writing papers, which was a turning point for me, as writing and speech are fundamental in every profession. I realize now how each professor was helping me to build character with knowledge. Today, I use all of these skills both personally and professionally in my decision-making.

Each Dyson professor was helping me to build character with knowledge. Today, I use all of these skills both personally and professionally as a physician in my decision-making.

College is a significant time in a person’s life. In what ways did your time as a Dyson student influence you to become the person you are today?

When I was a student, I had only recently immigrated to the United States from Jamaica, so I was adapting to a new culture of learning, and I actually extended my time at Pace to learn more about socialization, integration, and community service, working both internally in the biology lab and externally at IBM and pharmaceutical company Ciba-Geigy. These experiences laid a solid foundation for me, and I took all the lessons learned with me in my training as a medical doctor and beyond.

Most of my challenges were cultural. With my Jamaican culture, I did not fully understand the journey of Black Americans in this country and the concept of racism and prejudice (in Jamaica, our motto is ‘out of many, one people’ and all are treated equally). So, integration was difficult for me, and it took me many years to fully understand my environment. These challenges, however, empowered me to pursue knowledge and to be the best version of myself. What I liked most about Dyson is that I felt at home there. It was a small community of students, professors, and staff with similar interests. This community helped me overcome some of the challenges.

Although a busy professional, you dedicate time volunteering for causes that are meaningful to you. Tell us more about that.

As someone who has been invested in by others, I believe in giving back and returning the favor. Most of my time volunteering was spent at local schools, churches, and church organizations, and my most memorable was as a Dyson student volunteering with the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. For me, volunteering was a nice break from classes and seeing the joy on people’s faces when you invest time with them energizes my heart in a powerful way.

What advice would you give to our students as they navigate their college life?

As you climb the ladder to greater heights, what brings the most content at the top is the depth of your character. Consider bringing along an attitude of gratitude on your journey and have fun along the way.