Chris Bates-Withers, M.S.
"Because I am working in a full-time clinical position, I needed a continuing studies program that would allow me the flexibility to study from home and to plan my studies around a work schedule that changes from week to week. UF’s Clinical Toxicology Program was the only program that met my needs for scheduling and flexibility…"
What is your academic and/or professional background?
I am a physician assistant practicing in critical care in Maine and New Hampshire. I began my clinical career as a firefighter/paramedic, and first developed my interest in clinical toxicology through hazardous materials technician courses in the fire academy. Since that time, I have gone on to earn a master’s degree in biology from Harvard University, a master’s degree in physician assistant studies from Midwestern University, and now my Master of Science in pharmacy degree in clinical toxicology.
Why did you develop an interest in Clinical Toxicology? Do you have a favorite aspect of the field?
I developed my interest in clinical toxicology through hazardous materials coursework in the fire academy while working as a firefighter/paramedic. Now that I am working as a physician assistant in the ICU, my clinical interests are focused on toxicological conditions in the critically ill patient, including toxicity of commonly used critical care pharmacotherapeutic agents and agents causing acute or subacute toxicity to the cardiovascular system.
Why did you choose UF’s Clinical Toxicology Online Graduate Program? Did you consider other programs?
When I applied to the UF Clinical Toxicology Online Graduate Program, I was looking for an opportunity to pursue advanced study in a field of clinical interest as a working professional. Because I am working in a full-time clinical position, I needed a continuing studies program that would allow me the flexibility to study from home and to plan my studies around a work schedule that changes from week to week. UF’s Clinical Toxicology Program was the only program that met my needs for scheduling and flexibility, so it was the only program I considered.
The UF Clinical Toxicology Program was also affordable. A portion of the program was paid through my employer’s tuition reimbursement program, and I was able to complete the Master of Science degree without incurring any additional student loan debt.
What was your favorite part of the program?
My favorite part of the program was working with instructors with interesting and diverse backgrounds, ranging from chemistry and pharmacology to law enforcement. The program faculty brought a broad range of clinically relevant perspectives that I was able to directly apply to my professional practice.
How are you using your degree or how are you hoping to use your degree?
I practice in an intensive care unit where I manage toxicology cases regularly. My institution does not have an in-house toxicologist, and we have historically depended upon the toxicologists available through our local poison control center. Although this is an excellent resource, the poison control toxicologists operate without direct day-to-day contact with the patient or the ability to perform a hands-on assessment. With my toxicology expertise from this program, I have been able to bring a more direct level of toxicologic management to the patients in our ICU.
Since beginning the clinical toxicology program, I have also been able to delivery a cardiac toxicology talk at a state-level conference and am now teaching the toxicology lecture for the Boston University Physician Assistant Program. With some additional experience, I hope to become eligible for American Board of Applied Toxicology certification.
Has the program helped you in your current job, or day-to-day activities? What has been the most useful takeaway that you have applied to your day-to-day responsibilities?
I have been able to provide more meaningful and hands-on toxicologic management for patients in my ICU. In addition, there is substantial overlap between the fields of pharmacology and toxicology, and I have found that because of my toxicology training I am a more conscientious and informed prescriber. This has allowed me to engage in more meaningful discussion with our hospital pharmacists about drug interactions, management of off-target effects, and drug-disease interactions.
What surprised you most about the program?
The greatest surprise for me about the program was the diversity of student backgrounds. While many of my classmates were in a position similar to mine as working professionals in healthcare, I also had classmates who were already very skilled and experienced toxicology providers and toxicology laboratory professionals.
What was/is your takeaway of the online learning format? What was your favorite part of the online learning experience?
The online learning format was an excellent fit for me professional development needs. I needed a program that I could complete while working full-time at a position with demanding and sometimes unpredictable hours. The online learning format allowed me to complete my coursework on my own time, rather than being obligated to a specific classroom/lecture schedule.
Unlike friends and colleagues in in-person ongoing education programs, my learning process was uninterrupted at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic because the program was already self-contained in an entirely online format.
I do generally enjoy some degree of face-to-face interaction during my learning process, and it may have been interesting to have one or two on-campus sessions over the course of the program (or to have students attend a national-level toxicology conference as a part of the program) to be able to network with classmates and faculty a bit more closely, though I’m not sure this would have been practical in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.