Mentor Spotlight: Dr. Scott Ingram
Thursday, December 5, 2019
I cannot express enough words of gratitude to have found Dr. Scott early in my second year of medical school. He has been a guiding light, authoritative figure, and an incredible mentor in my journey to pursuing plastic surgery. He has created numerous opportunities for me to enhance my knowledge in the field, from assisting in surgeries to carrying out research alongside other consultants. Dr. Scott is one of the most highly respected Plastic Surgeons in Australia, being one of the few former Presidents of the Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS) and being one of the only surgeons in the nation to carry out certain surgeries. He inspires and motivates me every day and I am honored to share his words of wisdom with the AWS community.
Dr. Scott Ingram, MBBS FRACS(Gen) FRACS(Plast) FACSCIME, has been a Specialist Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon for over two decades in Brisbane, Australia. He is the current Assistant National Secretary for the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ISAPS), and the past president for ASAPS. He has affiliations with universities in Queensland to educate upcoming medical professionals and extends his knowledge to individual medical students interested in plastic surgery. He is a surgeon by profession and educator by passion. He loves teaching eager students about his field and has mentored numerous students from their journey as a resident to a consultant.
Could you tell me about your journey to become a plastic surgeon, and where you are now?
After six years in college and medical school, I went into the public health system to complete my internship for a year. A lot of my colleagues went away into general practice at that time, but I stayed in the hospital and registered my interest with the Royal College of Surgeons for surgical training. They sent correspondence and booklets to read and I then undertook the primary exam. After that, I could enter more surgically focused jobs at a higher level: principal house officer or registrar position. I was lucky to be at the surgically inclined Princess Alexandra Hospital, so by PGY4, I was in general surgery advanced training. Plastic surgery was my goal since I was a senior medical student and I kept trying, but there was a long queue, to the extent that it allowed me to finish my four-year training and qualify as a Specialist General Surgeon. I worked for one year as a Specialist, then moved from Queensland to New South Wales to commence my four-year plastic surgery training. I qualified as a Specialist Plastic Surgeon at the end of 2002 and worked in various areas. Currently, I'm in private practice doing a lot of plastic surgery with a very broad interest and it keeps me happy!
Are you both reconstructive and cosmetic?
This is interesting as I'm often asked by patients and other doctors, "What do you specialize in?" It's a difficult question to answer because I feel like I specialize in numerous areas. I like operating on the hand one day, the face the next day, the body another, or all of those on the same day. I like a variety of ages, from babies, to adolescents to middle-aged and elderly adults. The pathology spread that we get is also very interesting. There is this notion out there that easily considers reconstructive and cosmetic on diametrically opposite ends of the medical spectrum. However, in my view, if you want to be the best kind of reconstructive surgeon, you need to fundamentally have a very sound understanding of aesthetic approaches and techniques to maximize that outcome, and vice versa. I see them as complementary, so I use what I know about one, to maximize the outcomes of the other.
If you could change anything about your path to becoming a surgeon, would you?
I don't think I would be doing everything I am today if I hadn't taken my path. I don't believe that the path to becoming a plastic surgeon should necessarily be a quick or an easy one. There are big consequences when you are a specialist in plastic surgery. A good surgeon needs to know how to adequately attend to a patient's needs and obtain the best function and state of the outcomes. This takes years of training from understanding the correct surgical procedure to handling the worst complications. If you want to be the best cosmetic surgeon, you need to have fully mastered the complete skill set of reconstructive techniques. In the end, it was worth it as I gained experience in two specialty training programs. Being a specialist general surgeon doing plastic surgery made me a much better plastic surgeon. Looking back, it's not something I would have changed.
Can you describe a day in your life and how you manage balancing everything?
I like to start my days like anybody else, by having a nice sleep! In the morning I like exercising, catching up with the family, and getting the kids ready for school, which is always a crazy time. Surgical disciplines within medicine are certainly renowned for their early starts, so we're mostly doing our rounds by 7:00 am to make sure everything's going well with our patients. In medicine, you must be prepared for the unexpected – it's what I refer to as the chaos factor. The phone will ring, there will be an extra patient, there will be a change in resources. Thankfully, most of that generally happens whilst the sun is up, although often I find that your days deviate from what was originally expected. One of the troubles with this vocation is the inability to provide a certain time when you will be free. For example, yesterday I was hoping to get home at 5:00 pm, but I finished at 7:00 pm. I try and keep my weekends free from operating, not only for my own family time, but it's in your patient's best interests that surgeries are done during business hours to allow for the best backup possible. After a few years in the field, you do get into the rhythm of it and find your own balance.
What are your observations regarding gender distribution in surgery?
I started my medical journey in 1985, and my school was the first year where women exceeded the 50% ratio, so from the very beginning, gender balance was flagged as a priority. It wasn't quite that well-balanced when I commenced surgical training, but soon after, the Royal College of Surgeons created a strong affirmative action to increase the number of women in surgery. It had a positive impact and as a result, I have quite a few more female colleagues graduating alongside myself who are now mentors. Most of my mentors were male and it was rare to see many women in surgery before my time.
You have been my mentor since the start of the year. What do you believe contributes to successful mentoring?
The word mentor, and the societal connotations behind it imply that I'm giving you something. Yes, I am aiding you in your journey, but at the end of the day you're giving me a lot back. It's a two-way street, where we learn from one another. It takes a realization of that factor, that you need to accept knowledge as well as give, if you want to be a mentor. That's the beauty of medicine – while we are all specializing in certain areas, there will always be someone who can learn from you and you can learn from them. It's a good principle to have in this field with such vast areas of expertise.
What would your advice be to young medical students, especially women, who are interested in pursuing surgery?
Understand that it's not going to be easy. It's going to be very rocky, difficult, and you will need to be resilient. Don't feel like you need to do it all on your own. Ask for help if you need it. People have done it before you, and people will come after you. I've seen a lot of my colleagues who came through with lots of regrets about things that they didn't do in their lives. I think the system is now set up well that many extracurricular activities like leisure and family time can be integrated quite readily into a surgical career. Stay focused and understand what is important to you and your priorities. At the end of day, if you want something, you will do everything in your power to achieve it, and it's possible!
Watch video snippets of this interview on YouTube.
Dania Khawaja is a second year medical student from Bond University in Queensland, Australia. She met her mentor, Dr. Scott Ingram, through LinkedIn, where they connected through a mutual interest in research. Dania has a keen focus in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. She attends multiple events and conferences to increase her knowledge of the field. She hopes to inspire other young medical students to follow their passion regardless of the previous connections they have in their industry, and be headstrong in the future goals they wish to achieve. Dania extends her gratitude for the guidance and support Dr. Scott has provided to her over this past year, and is very excited to see what her third year brings to their future.