Dr. Roechelle Smith '84 understands the interplay between the mind and the body when it comes to healing and well-being. Running her chiropractic practice in the Denver area for more than 22 years and her personal experiences have proven this phenomenon many times over.
“When a patient first comes to me, I need to really hear their story. It tells you a lot about what’s going on — gets more to the root cause. Is there something that they’re doing ergonomically that’s causing pain? If the brain can’t make a connection to that part of your body, you’re going to experience symptoms,” says Smith. Compassion and empathy for her patients bridge the gap between a clinical assessment and the path to wellness. As one of her patients says “Dr. Smith is kind, caring, and listens to how I’m feeling…[she] walked me through my anxiety and helped my physical body beyond words.”
Smith’s path to operating a successful chiropractic practice was not a straight shot. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University, she landed an enviable position as a marketing engineer at Hewlett-Packard (HP), where she’d spent her college summers interning. Smith was also dancing semi-professionally, a childhood passion she cultivated as a boarding student at Govs in the early 80s.
“Being able to dance at GDA was pretty special for me. That was what I felt I could bring to the table at the school. I danced as much as I could and started my own troop, Smith and Co Dancers. I was able to dance with some wonderful young ladies and young men. That was really special,” says Smith.
As a student, she already had a strong interest in health, fitness, and caring for others and had her sights set on becoming a pediatrician until she discovered engineering. “I fell in love with circuits at GDA, so I went to Stanford to get a degree in electrical engineering,” she says. Stanford, and the field of engineering, were still male-dominated in the 80s, but Smith felt supported by her professors.
Everything was falling into place for Smith — a degree from a top engineering program, a great job right out of college, and she was soon to be married to a fellow Stanford student. And yet she felt unsettled. “I really enjoyed working summers at HP, but being a woman in the corporate world full time was not for me. I was never totally happy, and I wasn’t savvy or interested enough to play the game of politics to move up. I’m really an introvert, so networking isn’t my thing,” says Smith. She was also getting sick more than usual. Looking back, Smith understands the connection between emotions and health. “If you are not on the right path, it affects you — it’s all connected. I knew I needed to leave that world to feel more whole,” she recalls.
If you are not on the right path, it affects you — it’s all connected.
And then something happened that would change Smith’s life. She was injured in a series of car accidents that resulted in chronic aches, pain, and frequent headaches. Smith began using chiropractic care to address her injuries and noticed that for the first time in her life, her chronic asthma attacks stopped. It was a pivotal point in her life. She was intrigued by the connection between chiropractic and true health, and decided to take a great leap of faith and move from corporate executive to launching a new career in health care. Smith couldn’t help comparing what she knows about engineering to how things work in the human body: “Sounds weird, but the nervous system rules, and I just decided to switch things from electrical engineering to engineering and electricity in the body. I’ve always had a keen interest in body mechanics and movement from dancing and innovative approaches to health and wellness,” she says.
Smith has been running her practice for twenty-two years now and has never looked back. “Early on, I thought I’d work for someone else, but my field is still male-dominated, and I came up against the old boy network and politics, so I set out on my own,” she says. “Having my own practice also allowed me to be more available to our children, especially in their high school years,” says Smith.
As a young woman in high school or college, Smith would not have guessed how her distinct and seemingly unconnected passions for dance, movement, healthcare, engineering, and her independent spirit, would match up to make her an expert chiropractor.
“I’m definitely still passionate about body movement. I’m not dancing as much now, but I work out regularly, and as a chiropractor, I watch how people's bodies move. I had a patient who sought my care after being in a car accident, and she used to do Praise Dance. I was able to watch her recently at her own Church, finally doing Praise Dance again. She was strong. She was wonderful. It was good to see the body doing what it needed to do, on command,” says Smith.
A self-described introvert, Smith still seems to spend most of her time interacting with her family, patients, and community. “I'm not out there on the front lines for Black Lives Matter or BIPOC issues hardcore directly, but, everything I touch with my office, I am supporting and fighting for the rights of people of color, especially women. I am on the board of the nonprofit Denver Delta, Inc, where we focus on the needs of people of color, women, food insecurity, and those who may need economic help, or businesses of those of color who may need some economic support. Several times a year, we offer a scholarship that’s specifically a food budget for a local student suffering from food insecurity.”
Dr. Roechelle Smith '84 at a Denver Delta, Inc fundraising event with her husband, Phillip A. Cannon
Smith is grateful for the community of her husband and children, friends, teachers, and others who helped her along the way. “Community is important to me. I think back on my time at GDA, and I'm pretty grateful. That was a long time ago, but people made sure I had what I needed — mental and emotional support as well as probably anything else. And then getting through grad school — the community helped me through it all,” says Smith.
As for challenges, she says, “I’m always learning more about how to be the best at my work, but I’m also allowing myself just to be me. Just be who I am all the time, take it or leave it, and be happy and proud of that. I think I'm finally coming into my skin all these years later. And along the same lines, who I am, what I do, is enough. That's probably been my biggest challenge to really accept that who you are is enough.”
Beginning this month, May 2022, and culminating at Reunion 2023, we hope you will join us for a year of events, programs, and stories to celebrate and honor the 50-year anniversary of women at the Academy. Read more stories of women at Govs over the last five decades to learn about their passions, challenges, and contributions to their communities.