She was a fashion merchandising major and professional model, hardly the type to go into medicine. But when Holly Gepfert Kalfas G.O. ’79 looks back, she knows a medical career was inevitable.
After all, to her, dissecting frogs in Glen Oak biology teacher Bill Maynard’s class was actually fun. And when her close friend went to medical school, Kalfas asked to study right along with her. Who does that?
Someone who’s destined for a career in medical sales, that’s who.
When Kalfas graduated from Ursuline College in 1983 with her eye on fashion, she was offered the chance to model in New York City. She passed on it.
“I was really torn, because my passion was really medicine and caring for people,” she says.
So, Kalfas began her roundabout route into medical sales. She started off in retail sales, then worked as national sales account representative for Budget.
The door to Kalfas’s longtime career opened wide when Johnson & Johnson hired her to sell surgical instruments throughout Northeast Ohio.
The company’s broad-based program exposed Kalfas to every line of surgery as she worked alongside doctors in the operating room and guided them in using Johnson & Johnson’s medical instruments. It was a job that required extensive training.
“I was there for the surgeon and patient hands-on throughout the whole procedure,” Kalfas says.
In such a sales job, she says, “you have to be smart, obviously, but you have to be dedicated. You have to be mature. You have to have a love for medicine, because you live it 24/7.”
Medicine became engrained in Kalfas, and now it seems hard to believe that she almost took a different path.
“What made me truly successful was being a good listener,” she says. “Listening to physician and patient needs was key.”
After several years at Johnson & Johnson, Kalfas moved on to Boston Scientific. In selling vascular stents and grafts to Cleveland surgeons, Kalfas had found her place.
“I finally scaled it down to what I was really interested in – vascular surgery and cardiac surgery,” says Kalfas. “All of my time was spent in the operating room with patients, surgeons, nurses and techs. I had such a love for medicine and helping people that I was fortunate enough to work hard and achieve this life.”
Kalfas’ life today is one immersed in the lives of her daughter, Natalie Schambs ’12, her mother and her husband, Iain, a neurosurgeon. Her career came to a halt six years ago, when her mother developed Alzheimer’s disease. “I just kind of took a deep breath and thought, ‘As much as I love my work, it’s time for me to step back and focus on my mother and my daughter,’” she says.
Family is at the core of Kalfas’ life. It always has been. “My family always comes first,” she says. “My parents were very supportive of me growing up. They always encouraged me to challenge myself and keep a positive attitude. Iain and I are the same with Natalie. We offer our love, support and encouragement and remind her to never give up on her dreams.”
Kalfas’s faith in God is just as strong as her love for her family. It’s helped her endure both the mundane and complex challenges of life. “Having a strong faith is very important to me, because that faith carries us through a lot of things” she says. “You don’t just go through life. There are so many bumps in the road. You really have to have faith in God – and in yourself.”
Today, Kalfas’ interest in medicine is alive and well. Instead of unfolding in surgery, however, it’s manifesting itself through volunteerism.
“I’m now just getting back into volunteer opportunities – medically related, of course,” Kalfas says. “Who knows what the next chapter will bring?”
What is your greatest luxury?
Relaxing with my whole family and friends, and of course, working out
Where do you feel most comfortable?
At home in Cleveland
What traits do you love most in your daughter?
Her sensitivity and unbelievable attitude
Who is your best friend?
My husband, daughter, sister and Ann Grogan Gross, G.O. '79 – definitely a lot of laughter, tears and stories through the years.
What moves you?
Acts of kindness toward people and animals