Young Trauma Surgeon Making a Name for Herself with UNLV Medicine

By Paul Harasim

By the time she turned 5 years old, Dr. Allison McNickle, now an assistant professor in the UNLV School of Medicine Department of Surgery, says her parents sensed that one day she would be a physician.

Missing bandages gave them a hint. “I was always bandaging my teddy bears,” says Dr. McNickle, laughing. “I had quite the imagination.”

Today, as the medical school’s section chief of trauma surgery, she plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the right equipment and latest training is available for surgeons. Dr. McNickle deals with harsh realities at the UMC Trauma Center on virtually a daily basis.

Whether it is handling gunshot wounds, knifings, burns, or injuries from horrific traffic accidents, she has 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 medical school’s division chief for acute care surgery and burn surgery. “Dr. McNickle is the person I would call if I was injured.”

Not long ago, she dealt with hikers—they had fallen off a cliff—where coordination with a search and rescue team was necessary. “We collaborated well. One hiker was brought by helicopter with broken bones and internal injuries and we were able to give the care needed.”

It was the UNLV School of Medicine’s Acute Care Surgery Fellowship, which she completed in 2018, that brought Dr. McNickle to Southern Nevada in 2016 from Chicago, where she had completed a general surgery residency.

“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,” Dr. McNickle says.”

Dr. McNickle says the training she received from Dr. Fraser was taxing. “He is not afraid to tell you that you could do better.”

Science and math were her favorite subjects in the public schools she attended in a Chicago suburb. The fact that she often found herself in the distinct minority in higher math and science classes, “girls were definitely outnumbered by guys,” did not bother her. “I wanted to learn.”

Dr. McNickle did her undergraduate work at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and attended Rush Medical College in Chicago. During her general surgery residency, she soon understood trauma surgery was her passion.

“I like thinking on my feet,” she says.

During her residency, she handled a gunshot to the abdomen case from beginning to end. By the time her supervisor came in, she had successfully handled the situation. “That was when I knew for sure that this is what I want to do, that I can do this.”

Often patients and their families will stop by to thank her for lifesaving efforts at the UMC Trauma Center. “I may have sent them off to rehab on a ventilator and they come back talking … it is a wonderful feeling to help someone. That is what gets me up in the morning.”