Missing bandages around the house gave 5-year-old Allison McNickle’s parents a clue that she might be headed for a career in medicine.
“I was always bandaging my teddy bears,” said McNickle, laughingly. “I had quite the imagination.”
Today an assistant professor in the surgery department of the UNLV School of Medicine and the school’s section chief of trauma surgery, she now deals with harsh reality on a nearly daily basis.
Whether it’s handling gunshot wounds, knifings, burns, or injuries from horrific traffic accidents, she’s developed a reputation for being one of the best surgeons at putting people back together.
“If she is there, I can guarantee she will be the one to give you the best chance for a successful outcome,” says Dr. Douglas Fraser, the school’s division chief for acute care surgery and burn surgery. “Dr. McNickle is the person I would call if I was injured.”
It was the medical school’s Acute Care Surgery Fellowship that brought her to Southern Nevada in 2016 from Chicago, where she had just completed a general surgery residency through the University of Illinois-Chicago at Mount Sinai Hospital.
“I knew I wanted to be a trauma surgeon, from the kind of cases I dealt with, but I felt a need for more training,” she said. “The Acute Care Surgery Fellowship offered me that.”
The demand for such fellowships has grown as the demands on trauma surgeons have grown. Surgical emergencies that used to be handled by specialists in thoracic, gastrointestinal, plastic, or general surgery are now frequently performed by trauma surgeons.
A study of surgeons at 90 U.S. academic medical centers showed that trauma surgeons perform a variety of urgent procedures, including gallbladder removal, hernia repair, appendix removal, and spleen repair and removal. In addition to operating room surgeries, trauma surgeons often perform bedside procedures such as placing drainage tubes in chests or catheters in veins.
McNickle said the training she received from Fraser, whom she considers her mentor, was both taxing and rewarding. “He sets very high standards for himself and for Fellows. He pushes you to be your best. He challenges you. He’s not afraid to tell you that you could do better.”
Last summer, McNickle completed her fellowship. She said that in some ways she surprised herself by wanting to stay in Southern Nevada. “When I came here, I thought
Southern Nevada was just about the desert, the Strip, and nightlife and gambling.” Instead, she finds it to be a city much like any other — and one that will provide her with many nearby hiking opportunities.
It was during her general surgery residency at Chicago’s Rush Medical Center that she realized that trauma surgery was her passion.
“I like thinking on my feet,” said McNickle, a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.
During her fourth year of residency, she handled from beginning to end a case involving a gunshot to the abdomen. By the time her supervisor came in, she had successfully handled the situation.
“That’s when I knew for sure that this is what I want to do, that I can do this,” McNickle said.
Now, she said, she values when former patients and their families stop by UMC to thank her for her lifesaving efforts.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to help someone. That’s what gets me up in the morning.”