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Congratulations, Dr. Schmidt: A legend in cystic fibrosis care for kids hangs up his stethoscope
June 01, 2022
Dr. Joel Schmidt smiling at CHoR patient Addy

    Congratulations, Dr. Schmidt: A legend in cystic fibrosis care for kids hangs up his stethoscope

    Dr. Joel Schmidt retired from the Army in 2006 and has been at CHoR ever since. That’s 16 years of caring for kids, most with cystic fibrosis. In addition to his medical expertise, he’s brought humor and grace into each clinic and hospital room. This month, he’s retiring once again – this time to enjoy travel and time with his family.

    A blended passion, caring for kids and defeating CF

    Dr. Schmidt’s first experience with CF was in high school when two of his schoolmates had the disease. They were sisters and rode the bus with him when they were able to go to school. Many days they were at home battling their illness, fighting to breathe. Sadly, they both died from CF before the age of 20.

    Thanks to the research and care of CF experts around the world, including Dr. Schmidt, the life expectancy for children born with CF has increased from 18 in the 1970s to more than 50 years old today – with even greater hope on the horizon. Quality of life has risen exponentially too.

    Under Dr. Schmidt’s leadership our CF program at CHoR has been recognized among the top 10 Cystic Fibrosis Foundation-accredited centers for outstanding outcomes. Dr. Schmidt has also shared his expertise serving on the board of directors for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Virginia Chapter and has been a longstanding member of the CF Foundation Center Committee, the team of physicians who visit centers around the country to ensure they’re providing high quality care. His impact on children’s health extends even beyond the United States – he helped his church set up a clinic for children in Dos Palais, Haiti.

    What Dr. Schmidt’s colleagues had to say

    We asked some of Dr. Schmidt’s teammates what they love most about him, and they were happy to answer!

    “He’s a warm and caring physician, and self-deprecatingly funny,” said Dr. Michael Schechter. “We will all miss having him as a colleague, myself especially.”

    Maridel Lee, one of the nurses who’s worked with him the longest, appreciates his organization, timeliness, approachability and support of the nursing team.

    “He’s witty and engaging with patients, another Patch Adams,” said Lee. “He listens to his patients and develops long-lasting relationships with them and their families.”

    Social worker Dena Wentz has been on the team with Dr. Schmidt for more than a decade as well and notes how uniquely he’s able to connect with others, from little ones to learners, caregivers to colleagues.

    “My favorite thing about Dr. Schmidt is how he always tries to bring out the best in patients. He loves to celebrate their accomplishments and milestones – their weddings, birthdays and improved health outcomes,” Wentz said. “Have I mentioned that he’s funny? He naturally makes a difficult situation a little lighter and because of that, patients listen to him – and that helps improve their CF care. I have watched him connect quickly with new medical students and residents, new patients and new team members. He always calls people by their names and looks them in the eyes. He is approachable and open to feedback; our team is better because he’s been a part of it.”

    Katie Hendrickson has worked with Dr. Schmidt first as an administrative assistant, and most recently as associate administrator.

    “It is so hard to pick a favorite part about working with Dr. Schmidt. He is the bubbly, fun-loving uncle of the pediatric pulmonary family,” said Hendrickson. “When a team member joins, he makes them feel like they’ve already been a part of the family for years. When it comes to patients, he always makes time for them no matter if his schedule for the day is packed. He is a great pediatric pulmonologist, teammate and friend. To say that he will be missed is a huge understatement.”

    New routine, same heart

    As Dr. Schmidt begins retirement, he may trade his stethoscope for traveling gear, and his commuting car for his lawn tractor and motor home. He and his wife of 40 years plan on many more adventures, but he’ll never stop caring about his patients.

    In his own words, “You might see me around town, and I hope to see you at CF events for years to come. I will definitely ask you how you’re doing, but this time I won’t have a pen in my hand.”

    Hear from the family of one of Dr. Schmidt’s patients, Addy.

    Learn more about our CF Foundation-accredited care center and how it’s improving the lives of kids.

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