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  • John Lim

MF 066 : Dr. Kelly Lafaro Shares How Sheer Determination, Dedication and Grit Can Move You Forward

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

Kelly Lafaro

Moving Forward is also available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon Music.

Dr. Kelly Lafaro is a fourth year surgical resident at Columbia Hospital. Prior to this Kelly was an oncological research fellow at Johns Hopkins Hospital where she specialized in pancreatic cancer research; a topic that she has spoken about at conferences nationwide. In this episode, Kelly shares what it takes to be a superstar when it comes to following your passion in a highly competitive field.  Kelly also shares for the first time, a failure that almost prevented her from pursuing a career in medicine.  See how determination, dedication and grit can be your greatest assets for moving forward.

Successes at a glance:

  1. MD from Tulane Med School.

  2. 4th year surgical resident at Columbia Hospital.

  3. Surgical oncology research fellow at Johns Hopkins Hospital, specializing in pancreatic cancer.

  4. Surgical resident at UC Irvine Medical Center.

  5. Research fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

  6. Super triathlete!

How Kelly gets inspired to conquer the day:

Kelly’s inspiration comes from having chosen a profession that she absolutely loves.  You can hear the unabashed enthusiasm and love for her career calling in her voice.  This alone provides her with the inspiration to get up each day and be inspired.  However, this doesn’t mean that it’s easy for her as Kelly’s day starts at 4 am each morning!  Despite this, there’s no room for hitting that snooze button as her day involves helping countless individuals and making a difference in their lives and the lives of their families.  With respect to specific routines, coffee plays a big part of Kelly’s morning as does going to the gym, when her schedule allows.  As a triathlete, exercise is key for Kelly to jump start her day, relieve stress and keep her going during some very demanding days.

Setback or failure that led to pivot and shift:

For the first time, Kelly shares a setback that nearly prevented her from pursuing a career in medicine.  When Kelly first applied to med school, following college, she got waitlisted at all four of the schools she applied to and was eventually denied admission at all four!  While many would have given up at that point, Kelly’s sheer determination and grit didn’t allow her to give up so soon.  An important moment, Kelly had to take a step back and discover whether medicine was truly a career that she wanted to pursue.  Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Kelly took a research position at Sloan Kettering and with the guidance of a great mentor, took the time to learn that medicine was her true passion.  It was this period of self-discovery that inspired her to give it another go.  In true moving forward fashion, Kelly persevered, climbing that proverbial mountain, and on her second try, was accepted to a number of great med schools; including the very prestigious Tulane; where she earned her MD.  Moving Forward listeners, we talk a lot about the pivot on this podcast.  And sometimes this requires a major course change or course correction.  However, and in the case of Kelly’s story, a pivot can also be a way to reframe, reset and try again.  Kelly knew that medicine was a demanding profession; that it is highly competitive and that many, many bright individuals are denied admission to med school.  Despite this, Kelly took the time to step back, reassess and ultimately decide that she didn’t want to do anything else.  If you pursue a passion or calling, know that it won’t always be easy: you will be tested.  Kelly could have just as easily chosen another profession and been very successful.  But she knew that medicine is where she belonged and where she could do the greatest good.  Today, Kelly has done leading research in the field of pancreatic cancer and is on her way to becoming a top surgeon.  Imagine the loss to the medical profession and to the countless lives she has touched, had she given up her dream after the first major setback.  Remember, pivoting doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on your passion.  Sometimes, it’s a way for you to refocus so you can try again and move forward.

Knowledge Bursts:

  1. Resource or cultural experience that inspired Kelly to move forward:

  2. Dr. Folkman’s War (Paperback | Kindle) by Robert Cook: the story of Dr. Folkman’s ground breaking research in cancer and angiogenesis.  Kelly was inspired by how Dr. Folkman combined his mastery of research as well as his training and experiences as a physician to better understand how cancer cells work.  Initially, and for a long time, Dr. Folkman’s work was disregarded and Dr. Folkman was dismissed as “crazy.”  However, through sheer persistence and a passion for developing better treatments, Dr. Folkman persevered until the medical community listened.  Today, Dr. Folkman’s research has provided an invaluable blueprint for pharma companies to develop the latest breakthroughs in cancer treatments.  This story resonates with Kelly as a prime example of how sheer determination, grit and perseverance can overcome setbacks and allow you to move forward.

  3. How Kelly stays organized and manages her time:

  4. A reliable and up to date calendar!  Also key to Kelly’s organization is consistency in waking up at the same time everyday and sticking to a schedule that allows her to be at her best when seeing patients or in the OR.  While Kelly loves a traditional paper calendar, she has moved over to an electronic one on her phone.

  5. Favorite app / website / resource or productivity hack:

  6. Cozi (IOS | Google Play): a family organizational app that allows you to access the schedules of multiple individuals with a central hub, containing everything from to do lists to grocery lists.  As Kelly notes, it’s a way to keep “my life in a little bit of order!”

Support the Podcast:

  1. The Corporate Cliches Adult Coloring Book: makes the perfect stocking stuffer or white elephant gift.

  2. Try out Audible (affiliate link).

  3. Try out Amazon Prime (affiliate link).

Kelly’s Advice for you to Move Forward:

You need to take the time and figure out what your true passion is.  Once you do that, figure out a way to intertwine that into your everyday life; whether as a career or a hobby.  Key to this is setting aside the time and evaluate; even in the face of initial rejection or failure.  Kelly had to do this when faced with what seemed at the time, an insurmountable setback in pursuing a medical career.  Recognize that pursuing a passion or finding your purpose isn’t going to be as easy as turning on a light switch.  To pursue a life that isn’t simply about checking in and out, or trading time for money, it will require a lot of reflection and introspection.  Most all, it will require an investment of your time, energy and as Kelly’s story exemplifies, great determination and grit, so you can move forward.

Connect with Kelly:

#JohnsHopkinsHospital #UCIrvineMedicalCenter #ColumbiaHospital #pancreaticcancerresearch #Triathlete #DrKellyLafaro #medschool #Surgicalresident

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