When Dr. Patti Patterson Joiner ('78) decided on a career practicing medicine, she knew that she wanted to work with children—but she didn’t know the dark places to which that work would bring her, nor the light she would carry into the lives she would encounter there.

Patti Patterson grew up in Hale Center, a small West Texas town on I-27, 35 miles north of Lubbock, but when she chose to pursue a biology degree at Lubbock Christian University in preparation for medical school, she was unsure of how well she would do in such rigorous coursework.

AltPatterson credited LCU not only with helping her discover her passion for medicine, but also inspiring her self-confidence.“Coming from a tiny high school, I really had no idea if I could even complete the curriculum, if I was even smart enough for medical school,” she recalled. “But when I got to LCU, I found so many fantastic mentors and support. Dr. (Gary) Estep, Dr. (Perry) Mason, Reese Bryant—there were just a lot of people there who poured into me over those years. Even lifelong friends —some of my best friends are people I met there.”

As those mentors walked with Patti during her time at LCU, she discovered confidence in her academic performance. “I credit LCU with changing me from a very shy, rural kid into a solid medical school applicant.”

After graduating from LCU in 1978, she was accepted to the oldest medical school west of the Mississippi River—the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. 

“Medical school is hard,” she recalled. “Intellectually, physically, emotionally, spiritually—in every possible way, it’s exhausting. One of the most important things for me in Galveston was the little church we attended. Churches in tourist towns can struggle—you get big swells and dearths, and it was mostly full of people from the medical center. I gained some lifelong friends there—it was vital.”

Even so, it wasn’t long before Dr. Patterson began practicing medicine on her own, moving back to West Texas.

“I couldn’t decide between pediatrics and family medicine,” she admitted, “and I did a year of family medicine at Texas Tech Amarillo before I realized that I was happiest when I was delivering and working on babies.”

altPatterson quickly discovered that she wanted to work with babies, a calling that developed into a lifelong passion.With that revelation, she returned to UTMB Galveston’s renowned pediatrics program, to complete three years of residency and then two years in her chief residency. During that time, Patti found God calling again upon some of her deepest passions, particularly when she came into contact with infants and children who had been subject to abuse.

“In residency, I saw kids who had been abused and needed someone to stand up for them,” she recalled. “CPS does an amazing job—the best job they can—but sometimes a child really needs an advocate on the medical side of things, someone who can stand up and say, ‘If something doesn’t change, this kid is in real danger.’ Often, as a physician, just from knowing the mechanics of an injury, you can tell that the story given by a caregiver or whoever can’t actually be the way it happened.”

One particular heart-wrenching case stands out in her memory—one of a patient she treated when he was suffering from extreme abuse. “I took care of a little guy in my second year of residency. He was almost two years old, but he was the size of an eight-month-old, he had fractures all over his body, and he was profoundly developmentally delayed,” she recalled. “We kept him in the hospital for a couple of weeks because of the malnutrition, and I would always go and see him. I was on call a lot, and when I was, I would just go to him and rock him. He was nonverbal at that point, but he would just snuggle up to me.” To that patient, she became a haven of safety.

She recalled that she would often follow up with him at appointments at her clinic, and she learned that he had gone to live with another relative and that he was in good hands. “He went to be with an aunt, and when he came with her to the clinic, he would hide behind her, and I knew that he’d bonded with her.”

After her time in residency, however, Dr. Patterson’s career shifted gears—she took a position at the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) as a pediatric consultant.

“I started out working with the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program,” she recalled, “and integrating that into the overall health plans for women and children, and then with plugging in immunizations and other preventative care for kids. I did a lot of work with early childhood intervention programs, specifically for kids zero to three with developmental delays or risks for developmental delays—maybe a kid with Down syndrome, preemies, or kids with head trauma. I worked to develop policies, protocols, helping plug those into the systems, and also worked with children’s mental health, genetics, and other programs.”

Her passion for children in dangerous situations carried over into her work there, as well. “I argued for child abuse to be viewed as a public health problem instead of a social services problem,” she recalled. “It’s a complex issue, but it’s a leading cause of death in infants, and it needs to be addressed as a public health issue as well.”

AltWhen Dr. Patterson worked in the state health department she noted her favorite program implemented was newborn screenings. Recent graduate Presley Pharies ('23) was diagnosed with PKU during her newborn screening and with adjustments has a healthy and normal life. She graduated with a BA in Psychology and is currently in graduate school for social work.Through her 12-year career there, Dr. Patterson eventually became the Executive Deputy Commissioner of Health, functioning essentially as the chief executive officer of the entirety of the Texas DSHS.

“I did a lot of legislative work and general policy,” she recalled. “I even managed the multi-billion-dollar budget.”

While some may see that kind of legislative work as unnecessarily bureaucratic and political, Dr. Patterson emphasized how impressed she was with her colleagues and the work they were able to do because of those leadership roles.

“The people I got to work with in the state health department could have worked anywhere, but they chose to work in roles to help impact the most kids, and especially kids with disabilities, as they could. They all had this incredible passion for helping kids. In working through the legislative process, we were able to do some pretty big things—my favorite was probably the newborn screening program.”

This program, she explained, screens essentially every baby born in the state, enabling physicians to catch a whole array of disorders that, if found and treated early, can turn what could have been a devastating outcome for that child into a relatively normal life. “Take PKU,” Dr. Patterson explained. “If you catch that early and adjust that child’s diet, they’re able to live normally, even go on to college—but if not, they’ll likely be profoundly disabled. Early diagnosis is everything in those outcomes.”

Not only was legislation Dr. Patterson helped write aimed to help with early prevention and detection, much of it was also aimed to help pay for the expensive procedures and medications that many of the children they diagnose need.

“Public health is often doing little things that make a huge impact,” she said.

After twelve years, however, Dr. Patterson decided to return to West Texas at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) to help head their rural health programs. She quickly transitioned back, however, into the area of her true passion—pediatrics.

“After coming here to TTUHSC, my work was really influenced by the Adverse Childhood Experiences literature,” she explained. “I was doing just general pediatrics—clinics and so forth—but we really needed to have someone do the child abuse work. It's now an official subspecialty of pediatrics, so I was able to get board certified in child abuse pediatrics.”

For the next fifteen years, Dr. Patterson worked as a child abuse specialist, often the lone person with that specialty on staff at TTUHSC—but that work brought her more fully into a network of others across the South Plains.

altWhen Dr. Patterson returned to West Texas, she was quickly recognized as an expert in child abuse cases.“There's such a team of people with passion for these kids,” she explained. “There's the District Attorney's Office, the juvenile division of the Lubbock Police Department, CPS workers, the Children's Advocacy Center—there's all these people that work together. One minute, I'm working talking to a neurosurgeon; the next I'm talking to an investigator for the DHS office in Clovis; and then the next minute I’m working with a social worker or maybe talking to an ophthalmologist. A lot of what I do is just translation—the police have their own language, doctors have their own language, so I do a lot of coordinating between them, making sure everyone knows what these children need.”

When she returned to Lubbock, Dr. Patterson was able to help LCU students in many of the ways that she herself was encouraged to grow during her own time on campus. She has worked directly with mentoring pre-med students in conjunction with LCU's Office of Pre-Health Professions.

“I get to pour into these students the same way I was poured into when I was there—it’s an honor,” she said simply.

Dr. Patterson has maintained a close relationship with LCU throughout her career. She was recognized with the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1999, and again in 2016 with the Gary and Pat Estep Award, which is given for outstanding contribution to the sciences. In 2001, she was appointed to the LCU Board of Trustees, where she has served in several roles, including Chair and Vice Chair of the Academic Affairs Committee and as a member of the Board Executive Committee. 

She also has been heavily involved in the LCU student medical mission trips to Peru as a founder of Olive Branch Ministries International, which has long partnered with LCU’s B. Ward Lane College of Professional Studies to help bring pre-health profession students overseas on various medical mission trips.

Dr. Patterson retired from her work at TTUHSC in the fall of 2023, and that provides an opportunity for her to return to LCU in a different capacity, where she will teach an upper-level special topics course in the LCU Mabee Honors College on child abuse.

AltDr. Patterson has maintained strong ties with LCU in a myriad of ways, including multiple partnerships on medical missions trips to Peru. She also plans to return to the classroom to teach a special topics class on child abuse.“It’s very different from what I've taught medical students and residents and faculty,” she explained. “It will dip into the social work side of things, but we’re going to focus a lot on long-term consequences and adverse childhood experiences literature. The trauma that these kids experience is something that affects them throughout their lives, and teachers need to know about it, ministers need to know about it—it’s a class that a lot of different areas could use.”

The class will also be reserved mainly for juniors and seniors, she added, due to the course's heavy nature.

“People ask me, ‘How do you do what you do? I could never do that.’ I believe that I am uniquely gifted by God to do it,” she admitted. “Faith, prayer, meditation on the Psalms, for those really tough days—the days I have to tell a mom that her baby's not going to survive. I go to the mountains, spend daily time in the Psalms. I have a husband (Michael Joiner, ‘77) who is super supportive. But it's tough. It's really tough. The folks I work with, we're there when a parent's worst nightmare comes true,” she explained. “Whether their baby's been shaken, or their child has been sexually molested—you know, most sexual abuse is by people they know. We’re walking with families through those really difficult times, but it’s never just me alone. There are a lot of people involved, and we will support each other.”

Despite the burdens that such a path brings, however, Dr. Patterson rests in the holy purpose of the calling to which she has committed her life.

“It's Kingdom work,” she emphasized. “There's just no doubt about it. Advocating for those with no voice, whether it's the kid who’s been checked into the hospital or kids in the foster system—it's a broken world. Kingdom people need to be standing in that gap, wherever it is.”

Her thoughts have often gone back to that young child she had cared for and rocked back in her residency.

“Over the years, I wondered about him,” she admitted. “We know that kids who were abused, just as any kid with an adverse childhood experience, are at greater risk for all kinds of health, social, and addiction problems—and I just wondered what had happened to him.”

It wasn’t until a few years ago that he contacted her on his own. Dr. Patterson recalled, “He said, ‘You probably don't remember me,’ and I immediately replied, ‘Tommy, I remember you, and I think about you all the time—working with you has had a major impact on my life and what I've chosen to do.’ And we've been in communication some since then.”

Dr. Patti Patterson’s calling to be a voice for the voiceless has helped countless children and families across the world, and she is working now to prepare others with that shared vocation—to bring a light of hope to some of the darkest places.