By Cali Carper
Before college, I knew exactly what I wanted in my career. I was an aspiring criminology major and wanted to work with the FBI’s esteemed Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). At least, that was my plan when I first stepped into Patty Schachtner’s office in 2018.
Initially, we met for a networking experience to better help me navigate positions within the criminal justice system. It was nerve wracking. But her delightful attitude and professional demeanor were a pleasant calm to my anxiousness.
To my surprise, she offered me an intern position last summer, where I explored medical records, autopsy files, and criminal conduct records. Years later, she remains a friend, mentor, and role model, inspiring me to engage in important discussions involving my community and the world.
Hailing from Somerset, Wisconsin, Patty spent her entire life growing, serving, and developing her community. She began her career as an EMT specialist and then launched her second career teaching EMS at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College for 10 years. Following that, she spent 3 years as a Chamber of Commerce executive.
Soon after, Patty utilized the skills she gained in marketing, business, and EMS to pursue death investigation. In 2011, she was promoted to chief medical examiner, a role she still maintains alongside her work as a Wisconsin State Senator.
Throughout her positions, Patty has created, authored, co-authored, and co-founded a number of bills, organizations, and initiatives. One of her projects includes co-founding the Suicide Prevention Task Force of St. Croix County.
“Back in 2007 there were no suicides in St. Croix County. In 2011, we had 18,” Patty explains.
In response, Patty worked closely with other advocates to study the data and understand how mental illnesses and addiction were influencing suicides. Together, they produced and distributed a pamphlet locally in an effort to increase mental health awareness, access, and education. This task force sparked conversation on important issues facing the community and provided solutions to combat its severity. Patty remarks, “That is one of the things I’m proudest of. That we were able to do this and bring it attention.”
What does the next level look like for combating this issue? Patty encourages policy reform. At every level, different organizations, groups, and leaders must collaborate to provide resources and education to the public.
An important question we should all ask ourselves is what the future of health innovation looks like. For Patty, the future of mental health, public health, and therapy is tied to technology. “I am hopeful that we can figure out a process with technology to do telepsychiatry and teleconferencing through mental health,” Patty describes.
It is through technology that we can introduce a new future for health care and expand benefits. Patty’s hope is that with telehealth as a new platform, health care will become more accessible, individuals will seek out resources for mental health, and it will aid physicians’ overwhelming workload.
Patty engages in advocacy through her work with Turning Point Wisconsin, a non-profit specializing in supporting, aiding, and sheltering victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
Because of her work as a death investigator, Patty heard many horror stories of trauma and abuse. Thus, she sought to educate herself and dismantle her prejudices about domestic violence victims which empowered her to create on-the-ground change.
“I never realized how manipulative domestic violence is,” she revealed. “Now, I just want to be there to advocate for people so that when they make the choice to leave [a toxic relationship] that they’re safe and their kids are safe. At the end of the day, it’s all about safety.”
I resonate strongly with this message. Patty’s empathy is admirable, and demonstrates her intention to cultivate a community where individuals are valued, safe, and protected.
Lessons to Remember
Patty’s words and actions are inspiring. I asked what advice she might offer to young people such as myself, and here are some lessons she shared:
Do not close your eyes to opportunity. They are plentiful, and may offer you an experience you could not have anticipated. You can always return to your plan. Take what you are offered and learn from it.
Surround yourself with people of different backgrounds and understand everyone has a different story.
The power of asking why. “If you can ask someone ‘the why questions’ four times as you listen to what they have to say, you will find out their story.”
Remember the journey. Sometimes we forget to enjoy the path we take to our success because we focus only on the end goal. Respect small successes as it leads you to bigger things.
Do not make the same mistake twice. If things do not go your way, reflect, learn, and move on.
Failing is fine. “I ran for town board and lost 3 elections and won my 4th. So persistence worked out.”
Through my research and interview, I learned not only about how accomplished Patty is, but realized her passion to enact real change. She embodies the youthful and energetic spirit of a social justice advocate I hope to mirror.
In addition, Patty has been an outstanding resource, connecting me to individuals whose values and goals align with my own. As a result, I have been exposed to non-profit organizations I can support, volunteer, and share with others. Slowly I am learning about aspects of my own community I never knew existed, which inspires me to contribute more.
It was visualizing her creative ideas and enthusiasm for large-scale change that foiled my plans of joining the FBI. I was able to see that there are things at home, here and now, that deserve attention, and I can be the voice to enact change.
Stay updated with Patty on Facebook. Check out her legislation and follow her platform by visiting her campaign website. Consider volunteering or donating to Turning Point Wisconsin, and stay informed about the Suicide Prevention Task Force on Facebook.
Cali Carper is an undergraduate student at The Pennsylvania State University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.