Navy surgeon returns to South Dakota to join Sanford Health

Dr. Jacob Quail worked in tropical, coastal locations before Sanford Vermillion

Dr. Jacob Quail smiles in his brown U.S. Navy uniform.

Starting from a home base in Volga, South Dakota, Dr. Jacob Quail has gone on to other continents and across oceans. Along the way, he advanced a military and medical career while also gaining appreciation for what he left behind.

Thousands of miles from where he was raised, he and his wife Shelby, who grew up in Worthington, Minnesota, eventually came to the conclusion that they wanted their three children — ages 10, 8 and 5 — to get a taste of the Midwest. Guam and Southern California have their advantages but neither felt quite like home.

It is why this lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, who was most recently working at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, has joined the staff at Sanford Vermillion as a surgeon.

“My wife and I had a lot of discussions about it and we both wanted our kids to experience what we had when we were growing up,” Dr. Quail said. “Of course it’s not going to be exactly the same, but we wanted to come back.”

It meant Sanford Health and the medical center were getting an exceedingly qualified and tested addition to their staff. This new physician would bring with him small-town sensibilities that matched up nicely with where he was going and what he’d be doing.

“It’s definitely a win for us and a win for him,” said Dr. Mary Jo Olson, a family physician at the clinic who was part of the interview process. “He and his wife seem like down-home people who are going to care about their family and care about the community. They represent everything we’re looking for.”

Dr. Quail and his skeleton

Dr. Quail was a standout football and basketball player at Sioux Valley High School who was also an excellent student with interest in science and anatomy. He even included a human skeleton he made for a class assignment in his senior pictures.

“That was probably a little unusual,” he said. “I know my wife still thinks it was unusual. But I was very proud of it.”

He graduated summa cum laude from Augustana University with a degree in biology, taking three trips to Guatemala on medical missions during that time. The surgeons with Dr. Quail’s group of students made an indelible impression.

“I saw how those surgeons relieved peoples’ suffering,” he said. “I was really enamored by that. They were my role models at the time — I wanted to be just like them.”

After graduating from medical school at the University of Minnesota, he entered the Navy, serving as a surgical intern at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. He also completed his residency there prior to a three-year stint in Guam as a general surgeon.

In this case, this tiny island in the western Pacific Ocean proved to be an excellent opportunity to establish himself as a surgeon. Plus, his expanding family didn’t mind the tropical climate. The small community environment on the military base also suited the Quails.

Sports play a role

“When we went to Guam my youngest was three months old,” Dr. Quail said. “We had three surgeons to take care of all the armed forces that were stationed there. You can’t just send your patients to the nearest tertiary care center. It’s just you. So you learn very early in your career how to make tough decisions and how to become an independent surgeon. There just weren’t a lot of options on where to send people.”

His background in sports helped immensely as he established a career in medicine. He was the 2001 “Spirit of Su” award winner in the state of South Dakota after helping lead his Sioux Valley High School basketball team to the Class A tournament.

Within South Dakota’s borders, the “Spirit of Su” award is one of the state’s top honors for a high school athlete because it recognizes on-court excellence as well as academics and citizenship. It’s not a huge leap, then, to think that skill set would help a doctor who is devoted to his country and the care of those serving in the armed forces.

“Sports were my life,” Dr. Quail said. “We played football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring and baseball in the summer. I actually talked about this a lot during my Navy career. Sports help you understand what it means to be a team player and a leader. Medicine isn’t just about the doctor and the nurse — caring for patients takes a collaborative effort from everybody on the care team. Especially in the operating room. It’s important that everybody is on the same page.”

‘This guy is wonderful’

For Dr. Olson, the vetting process with this incoming teammate included calls to people she wouldn’t normally be calling. It’s not often a physician candidate, for instance, will list a commanding officer in Guam on their list of references.

“He sounded like this big gruff guy and he says ‘I don’t usually say nice, fuzzy things about surgeons, ma’am, but this guy is wonderful. He works so hard, his patients love him and we basically have to tell him to go home at night,’” Dr. Olson said. “It was great — the people I talked to basically said they didn’t want him to leave.”

Dr. Quail’s connections to the region represented an added bonus. As a longtime Vermillion physician, Dr. Olson’s commitment to the clinic goes well beyond it being the building where she works. She foresees those same kind of bonds awaiting Dr. Quail.

“I’ve been here 20 years and the next-longest provider at the clinic has been here 10 years so this means a lot to us,” Dr. Olson said. “We’ve worked hard to get this clinic where it is.  It’s great to have a family coming in that will be part of that and part of the community.”

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Posted In General Surgery, Health Care Heroes, Sioux Falls, Vermillion, Veterans, Worthington

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