Vice-Chancellor's Inaugural Lecture: Professor Richard van Zyl-Smit

03 March 2022 | VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

Dear colleagues and students

It gives me great pleasure to invite you to the first virtual Vice-Chancellor’s Inaugural Lecture for 2022.

The lecture, titled “Where there is smoke there is fire: Facing the giants of Tobacco, Industry and Academia without getting burnt” will be presented by Professor Richard van Zyl-Smit, a professor and pulmonologist in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH), on Wednesday, 9 March 2022 at 18:00.

Academia can be cut-throat – but facing off with the tobacco and vaping industries is a different ball game. Starting in a laboratory with “smoking cells” and TB bugs has morphed into advocacy for clean air, support for smokers and fighting back against giants. Protecting one’s mental health in the long game of academia and health care remains a challenge, especially when not everyone loves what you do or say. These are some of the issues that will be tackled during the lecture.

Professor van Zyl-Smit enrolled for his MBChB at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1991 and completed his internship at GSH in 2007. He then went to London in 2008 and worked at University College London and Queen Mary’s hospital. In 2001 he returned to South Africa and commenced his medical registrar training at GSH, completing his fellowship exam in 2003. He subsequently completed his MMED reviewing the high care unit at GF Jooste Hospital. He joined the Division of Pulmonology in 2005 and trained as a sub-specialist pulmonologist.

After completing his two years in pulmonology, he was awarded a Discovery Foundation academic fellowship and subsequently an NIH Fogarty Fellowship to complete his PhD full time. His PhD, obtained in 2011, was lab-based and investigated the effects of tobacco smoke on pulmonary host defense mechanisms against mycobacterial infection. He subsequently expanded this work to include e-cigarette vapour and cooking fire smoke. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Professor Gilla Kaplan in New York before returning to South Africa to take up a position at the UCT Lung Institute.

In 2013 he took over the Lung Clinical Research Unit from Professor Eric Bateman and led the unit until 2021.

In 2018 he took up a full-time post at GSH and was appointed as an associate professor. He is currently the deputy head of the Division of Pulmonology and was promoted to full professor in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. He established the first formal smoking cessation clinic at GSH which is currently the only one of its kind in the country.

He has over 90 peer-reviewed publications on a wide variety of topics from tobacco smoking, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and critical care. Thirteen of his publications have been cited over 100 times.

He has for the past 15 years been actively involved in poverty-related respiratory health issues and is president-elect of the South African Thoracic Society; incoming co-chair of the American Thoracic Society International Health committee; and a global ambassador for the Global Initiative for Asthma.

Please join us for what promises to be a very enlightening lecture.

When: Wednesday, 9 March 2022

Time: 18:00

Platform: Microsoft Teams

Please register online to attend the lecture.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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