Listen More Than You Speak
Dr. Ingalls changed her path to pursue medicine and enjoys working internationally.
BY KIANNA CABUCO
DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, LANE COUNTY MEDICAL SOCIETY
Dr. Nichole Ingalls has a passion for medicine in tough places. With multiple trips to Latin America, time in the Air Force, and continuing international work, her love of what she does emanates through her words. As a partner at Northwest Surgical Specialists, she was highly recommended by a number of peers for her work and medical mission experiences.
“I feel like medicine is my calling,” Ingalls says. “I think everybody tries to find their purpose in life and I really feel like God lead me down the path to medicine.”
When Opportunities Arise
Medicine was not Ingalls first thought when she was considering college. She originally wanted to be a lawyer, so she chose to pursue an economics major to help her get into business law.
As different opportunities arose, Ingalls volunteered at a hospital where she found she enjoyed the patient care aspect. She then changed her major to biology and continued to take opportunities that were presented.
“Perhaps, the specialty you choose has to do with what you’re exposed to and what you click with,”Ingalls says. “So, I tried a few things in college, which ultimately led me to choose surgery.”
While working at Ben Taub, a trauma hospital in Houston, Texas, she was on the surgery team, where she was able to do procedures like putting in chest tubes even as an undergraduate.
“The people that I worked with infused me with a love for surgery, the technical aspects of it, and all the things it can do,” she says.
One oflngalls’ mentors that she credits with helping to shape her career was a trauma fellow she: worked with, Warren Dorlac, who was also active duty Air Force at that time. He convinced her to do a program called the Health Professions Scholarship Program, where the Air Force will pay for medical school in exchange for a military service commitment.
After her general surgery training, Ingalls decided to do a trauma fellowship and became a designated trauma surgeon in the Air Force, where she was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas.
“I was the first trauma surgeon to be embedded at University Medical Center in Las Vegas,” she says. “I spent about 25% of my time in my Air Force job, and the rest of my time, I was at a universitybased center doing trauma, critical care, and teaching.”
After Las Vegas, Ingalls and her husband wanted to look for a different environment in which to raise their kids. She says Dorlac is also part of the reason she moved to Eugene. “He came and interviewed here after he got out of the Air Force and told me, ‘I think this is a really good fit for you, Nichole.”‘
Ingalls has gone on many medical mission trips throughout her career, beginning in medical school.
She became involved in a group called Christian Medical and Dental Association, “which brings together people who are Christ followers to share how they view medicine as a modality for sharing Christ’s love with people,” she says.
Her first trip with that group was to Venezuela for primary care where, amongst other things, they were able to give vaccinations and do pediatric deworming.
Ingalls also did numerous primary care trips to Mexico before going there for her first surgery-based trip to perform hernias and fix “other lumps and bumps.”
As a fellow, she spent two months in Kenya volunteering at a Christianbased hospital called Tenwek, outside of Nairobi. Not only did she get to do surgery, but she was also able to help with a surgery residency training program.
“In my normal life back home, I helped train U.S. residents,” Ingalls says, “but there, it was fun because you were training people who were going to stay in that country and take care of the people there forever. I think that’s the better long-term vision.”
While in the Air Force, Ingalls was deployed to Afghanistan where she worked on national and local people. One of her patients included an Afghan boy who was injured from a bomb blast.
“He had broken bones that had to be fixed,” she says, “and I had to do an additional operation on him when I first got there that included giving him a colostomy.”
Since she was there for seven months, she was able to do his colostomy take down and look after him toward the end of his care.
“That was really cool to be able to see,” Ingalls says. “To be there long enough to see somebody go through that whole process and see the healing on the other side.”
Throughout all that, Ingalls had also gone to Haiti repeatedly. “We try to go overseas every year or at least every other year,” Ingalls says, ” and have done a few home building trips in Mexico with my children.”
“It’s always helpful to go with a humble nature, because the answers that you think are the right answers for the problem in that country may not be the right answers,” she says. “You’re coming from a perspective of what you’re used to or your resources, and it can be very different there. Just go and listen more than you speak.”
The Legacy of Giving
Ingalls and her husband, Jerrell Ingalls, have three kids that range from ages three to 11. They live on 24 acres, on which Nichole Ingalls and her husband made trails, “so the kids are outside riding their bikes often.”
When it comes to chores around the house, the kids also help take care of their two dogs and twelve chickens.
Ingalls usually tries to bring at least one of her children on each mission. She recalls an instance when one of her boys went around the hospital taking polaroids of patients and their families. When given the photos, their gratitude and excitement for something small that we might take for granted demonstrates the different circumstances in which we live.
“There’s so much hurt and there’s so much need,” Ingalls says. “Seeing that need is what prompts me to do something even if it’s something small, and that’s what I want to teach my kids. I think that’s the greatest joy I get.”
Ingalls says that one of her favorite aspects of bringing her children with her on medical missions is having them experience what it is like to be around people who, in some cases, are dedicating their entire lives to serving others, regardless of any sacrifices.
“We’re so blessed that we have the ability to go on missions like this and to take our kids,” Ingalls says, “and to feel like we somehow are bringing a little bit of love to the world that needs it so much.”