The richness of the student experience at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM) is defined by the diverse group of 49 individuals who come together as a class, representing cities and towns across the U.S. and each bringing a set of perspectives, beliefs, and unique journeys to medical school.

Third-year student Kelly Ingram is no exception. Born and raised in Mount Airy, North Carolina, her life experiences differ greatly from many of her classmates who hail from more urban settings. Mount Airy is a town of 10,000 at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, 38 miles north of Winston-Salem.

According to 2021 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 30 percent of Mount Airy’s population lives in poverty and 17 percent of people under the age of 65 are without health insurance.

“I have always believed that talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not,” Ingram said. “There are few places more emblematic of this than rural America. Growing up in a small, relatively poor town provided little in the way of opportunity. We had a local community hospital, but for anything remotely emergent, patients were sent over an hour away. This was also the case with specialty medical care.”

When she was young, Ingram’s mother needed to see multiple medical specialists, and her family quickly experienced the burden of traveling long distances for care.

“Traveling an hour, one way, to see a doctor can quickly turn into an entire day event,” she said. “Public transportation is nonexistent, so if you don’t have a car, these appointments are often unattainable. This is where a sense of community is vital, and it is important that neighbors take care of one another.”

Ingram’s fascination with the human body began at age 6, when she memorized the bones of the body on her LeapPad learning tablet. She thought she wanted to be an orthopaedic surgeon, but that changed later.

After graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in biological sciences, Ingram took a job at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s HLA Immunogenetics Lab, which provides testing services for people awaiting kidney, pancreas, heart, and bone marrow transplants. She also earned a master’s degree online in microbiology from the University of Florida.

The notion of becoming an orthopaedic surgeon changed over time as she worked in the transplant lab.

“Now I think I want to do something more with transplant patients to continue what I was doing at Wake Forest,” she said. “I think that would be a really meaningful career. There are several patients from the lab that I want to be able to help and continue to help others like them.”

But first, medical school.

Ingram’s VTSCOM class began that particular journey in the throes of a global pandemic in the summer of 2020. Heeding guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the governor of Virginia, classes and small group learning sessions went virtual. Clinical rotation schedules for upper classmates were disrupted. The medical school itself looked like a ghost town.

“All of my medical school experience has been during the pandemic,” Ingram said. “But I feel like we’ve adapted really well.”

When asked about the biggest surprise of medical school, Ingram said, without hesitation, the time commitment.

“I’ve always been really dedicated to my school work, but for medical school, I feel like I spend most of my time studying,” she said. “It’s all things that I really enjoy, so it doesn’t bother me that much, but it’s all I do.”

Ingram was the recipient of the Dr. Sidney C. and Mrs. Lucy O. Smith Scholarship that supports VTCSOM students who demostrate a financial need. Sid Smith, a graduate of Virginia Tech, is professor of medicine at the University of

“I was extremely thankful,” she said. “It’s especially helpful because I surpassed the age limit that I could be on my parents’ health insurance, so that was an added expense that I have incurred.”

Ingram’s parents, Jean and Steve, a retired teacher’s aide and a retired office equipment service engineer, respectively, are proud of their daughter.

“From a very young age, Kelly always wanted to be a doctor,” Steve Ingram said. “Kelly has the heart of a teacher, and she could always explain complex issues in ways even I could understand. I know she will be an amazing doctor.”

Jean Ingram agreed. “When Kelly sets her mind to something, she gets it done,” she said. “I love to watch her when she talks about what she is studying. Her eyes have a sparkle in them. I am so very proud of what she has accomplished and look forward to her future.”

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