Release Date: 6/21/2011
For many people, the medical examiner is mainly a character on CSI – the intrepid doctor-sleuth, solving murders in a sixty minute time slot. But for recent U of O graduate Amy Smedley-Patton, this job – that of a physician officially authorized to ascertain causes of deaths, especially those not occurring under natural circumstances – is a goal she's been moving toward most of her life.
“My dad is a coroner in Garland County, [Arkansas],” she said. “When I was younger he allowed me to ride along on calls, and eventually to help him with some of them.”
This early experience was a significant factor in Amy’s decision to major in Biology in college. But it was a summer internship prior to her senior year at Ozarks that solidified her desire to pursue a career as a medical examiner. “I spent eight weeks last summer with the Arkansas State Crime Lab in Little Rock. Six weeks of it was in forensic chemistry, and two weeks was in the medical examiner’s office itself.”
“A coroner actually goes on site to investigate any unintended or suspicious death, whereas a medical examiner works in a lab situation to ascertain cause of death in the deceased,” she explained. “It’s neat to be able to put two and two together.”
Ozarks graduate Amy Smedley-Patton currently works as an EMT/Firefighter for the Lake Hamilton fire department, near Hot Springs. In January she celebrated her 4th year as an EMT.
The internship experience showed Amy what being a medical examiner is really like. “I have a hard time watching shows like ‘CSI’ because it’s nothing like real life,” she said. “So much of it is overly dramatized, their methods aren’t always accurate, and the timetable really bothers me. What takes 45 minutes on TV can take months in reality.”
“That internship allowed me to see the best of the best and the worst of the worst,” she said. “The medical examiner would ask, ‘Do you want to see this?’ and I would say yes, regardless of whether I was examining babies, abuse victims, or decomposed bodies. It was hard but made me more resolved to want to do this job.”
“Sometimes there’s nobody left to stand up for these victims,” she said. “Sometimes nobody but the medical examiner can speak for the dead child, the victim, whoever it is. I want to be the person who can do that, who can stand up for someone who’s gone and doesn’t have anyone else.”
Amy feels her coursework at Ozarks prepared her well for her chosen career. “My teachers at Ozarks were extremely supportive,” she said. “Ozarks is known for its attention to every student, and I definitely experienced that.”
“Working on my project in the forensic chemistry section required heavy use of proper lab techniques and analytical chemistry procedures, all of which I was taught throughout my science classes at the U of O. Thanks to the great hands-on experience in labs on campus, I already had the basic knowledge needed to go about my research with little help required. It made it nice for me, in that I was able to go about my work without having to stop and ask for assistance all the time.”
The summer internship experience also shaped the way Amy viewed school. “After performing research at the Crime Lab, I came back to campus with a deeper understanding of scientific research methodology. After my time spent in the medical examiner's office, I gained a stronger desire to pursue my goal of being a forensic pathologist.”
Amy recently published the results of her summer internship research. On June 1st, her paper "Quantitative Measurements of JWH-018 and JWH-073 Metabolites Excreted in Human Urine" appeared in Analytical Chemistry 83(11): 4228-4236.
To become a medical examiner Amy will have to go to medical school, complete five years in residency, and then spend another year or two in residency as a medical examiner. Her M.D. will be in Pathology, and she will specialize in Forensic Pathology.