Football, paramedic career, UMSL chemistry lead Chris Tipton to med school

Chris Tipton, critical care flight paramedic and UMSL chemistry grad

Chris Tipton poses next to the helicopter he works on as a critical care flight paramedic for Survival Flight Inc. Paramedic medicine inspired Tipton to go back to school for a master’s degree in chemistry. The UMSL spring grad is now headed to medical school at Mizzou, where he used to play football while earning his bachelor’s degree in agricultural science. (Photo by August Jennewein)

At first glance, Chris Tipton appears an odd fit in a laboratory. The hulking former Mizzou Tiger offensive lineman’s big stature looks potentially hazardous surrounded by glassware and equipment.

But the truth is, Tipton is right at home. The soon-to-be master’s in chemistry graduate works as a research assistant for Professor Chris Spilling at the University of Missouri–St. Louis when he isn’t busy being a part-time critical care flight paramedic for Survival Flight Inc.

Through football Tipton indirectly found his true calling in medicine.

After graduating from the University of Missouri–Columbia in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science, Tipton started a career path popular among his football buddies – firefighting. In his training to get his emergency medical technician and paramedic licenses, he discovered he liked treating the patients more than the fire.

Tipton took a ground paramedic job in Northeast Missouri shortly thereafter and eventually became the lead paramedic for Pike County.

“You handle people on the worst day of their lives,” Tipton says. “You’re the first person a lot of times that this person will be seeing in their whole continuum of care. So it’s really important, the job we do.”

In his first week, Tipton delivered a baby on the side of a highway.

“You’re almost scared for the tones to go off,” says Tipton, recalling his early days on the job.

He’s been a paramedic for nine years now, spending the last four and half of those in the air – not a place paramedics start off.

“You get the sickest of the sick,” he says. “You might only run one call a day, but that one call has you go through almost every single skill you’ve possibly learned and all kinds of drugs that you would maybe use in a month’s time as a ground paramedic.”

After some years, Tipton started to feel as if he had “maxed out” his paramedic certification. A drive to do more in the field of medicine led him back to school, specifically to UMSL, where he could get a master’s degree and some more science classes and research under his belt before applying to medical school.

“Dr. Spilling has given me a tremendous opportunity,” says Tipton, who is fully funded and receives a stipend. “That was the only way I could go part time as a paramedic and pursue research full time.”

In the lab at UMSL, he works on creating novel therapeutic compounds for people who suffer from sepsis, a type of blood poisoning. He’s also found a lot of value in his UMSL coursework.

“Class after class, light bulbs go off,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot of the concepts at the paramedic level, but now I’m learning them at the cellular and molecular levels.”

Tipton scored in the 93rd percentile in the science sections of the MCAT. He’s returning to his old stomping grounds this summer, not as a football player, but as a student in Mizzou’s medical school/PhD program. Tipton plans on conducting cancer research and possibly doing a residency in pathology or immunology.

“Helping people is a huge part of why I do what I do,” he says. “What I’ve gotten from UMSL is seeing how the science translates to that.”


This story was originally published in the spring 2017 issue of UMSL Magazine. Have a story idea for UMSL Magazine? Email magazine@umsl.edu.

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