In Her Element: Patton '10 excelling as public health chemist

Release Date: 4/10/2013

In just two short years, Amy (Smedley) Patton, 2010 Ozarks graduate, has gone from being waitlisted for medical school to being a few short weeks away from her master of science degree in interdisciplinary biomedical sciences, a full-time chemist in a chemical terrorism lab, published in the "Journal of Forensic Sciences," and a presenter at state and national conferences.

Patton, originally from Searcy, Ark., may be in her element now, but working as a chemist wasn't her original plan.

When she graduated summa cum laude from Ozarks in 2010 with major in biology and a minor in chemistry, she planned to head straight to medical school. Patton was waitlisted at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' (UAMS) College of Medicine in 2011, but, fortunately, she had a few back up options.

Amy Patton '10

Initially interested in attending medical school, Amy (Smedley) Patton '10 has found her professional passion as a public health chemist with the Arkansas Public Health Laboratory.

"I was offered an Environmental Public Health Fellowship through the Association of Public Health Laboratories, and worked as a fellow at the Arkansas Public Health Laboratory from September 2011 to October 2012.  During my fellowship, I entered the interdisciplinary biomedical sciences program at UAMS graduate school pursuing a master's of science degree. I plan to graduate in summer 2013," Patton explained.

After Patton's fellowship ended, she accepted a full-time position as a chemist with the Arkansas Public Health Laboratory, where she continued her graduate research.

"In October 2012, I accepted a full-time position as a chemist in the Chemical Terrorism Laboratory here at the Arkansas Public Health Laboratory," she said. "The focus of my research and my thesis is clinical and forensic analysis of human metabolism of designer drugs, namely synthetic cannabinoids and designer stimulants.  I also maintain the state forensic surveillance database for these items in collaboration with the State Crime Laboratory.  This is in addition to my work as a chemist, where I maintain competency on various methods for preparedness in the analysis of food, chemical, forensic, and clinical matrices for things such as cyanide, nerve agents, ricin, and heavy metals through our cooperative agreements with the FDA and CDC."

Patton is surprised, given her initial plans, to find herself enjoying her work so much.

"I had never thought of public health as an option," Patton said. "I had been dead-set on medical school for as long as I can remember. When I didn't immediately get offered a spot in medical school, I took the public health fellowship as something to keep me occupied and bolster my resume. But, at some point during that year, I absolutely fell in love with working in the public health field.  I found a place where I still felt like I could 'make a difference,' though in a more behind-the-scenes role which is where I like to stay."

"I remember touring the CDC while on vacation in Atlanta during high school and being amazed with their public health programs.  I told my mom, 'It would be so amazing to work for the CDC,' but it was something I never dreamt possible.  Now I get to work with them on a daily basis.  I truly love my job and look forward to coming to the laboratory every day," she said

With her trademark drive and determination to always give her best, Patton has paved her own road to success, and her colleagues have taken notice.       

"I was selected to give a poster presentation at the Association of Public Health Laboratories Annual Meeting last year," she said. "This was an unbelievable conference attended by leaders in public health from around the world.  I have a paper (in press at the moment) on which I am first author that will be published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.  It is so exciting to get to work on the synthetic cannabinoids and be on the cutting-edge of the research in this field."

She also recently presented her paper about the latest designer drug craze at the Arkansas Coroners' Association Annual Symposium. Patton first attended this conference as an undergraduate student in 2009.

"I remember the first time I attended, I was absolutely in awe when one of the medical examiners sat down next to me at lunch and began to talk to me about my school and career plans. Now, I'm presenting my work to the same group of people that I've sat next to and learned from over the past five years. It is an interesting and indescribable accomplishment in my book. It's like everything has come full-circle," Patton said.

While Patton's focus and ability are responsible for the majority of her success, she states unequivocally that she would not be the scientist - or the person - she is today without University of the Ozarks.

"I could never adequately state how unbelievably well my time at Ozarks has prepared me for my career as a scientist," Patton said. "I owe a lot to the professors that invested their time and energy into me. Not only in academics, but also teaching me the personal attributes that are so important: integrity, diligence, perseverance, attentiveness and reliability, just to name a few.  I learned so much about how to be a good scientist, and I will use that foundation to build upon throughout my career."

Patton currently lives in Bryant, Ark. with her husband, Wesley, and their new puppy, Georgia.