Featured Fellow: Ankur Kalra, MD
Already reading papers on coronary stents in high school, this second-year interventional fellow now values humility and perseverance in his peers and mentors.
Ankur Kalra, MD, is completing his fellowship in advanced interventional and structural cardiology at Houston Methodist Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College (Houston, TX). Educated at the Indira Gandhi Medical College (Shimla, India), he completed his medical and cardiology training at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (New Delhi, India), Cooper University Hospital (Camden, NJ), and Hennepin County Medical Center and Minneapolis Heart Institute (Minneapolis, MN). Last year, he served as a clinical and research fellow in interventional cardiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston, MA) and as a clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School (Boston, MA). Kalra has also been a TCTMD Fellow Talk blogger since July 2016. Starting this summer, he will follow his dream of pursuing a career in academic medicine as a structural heart interventional cardiologist at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH).
Why did you decide to pursue interventional cardiology?
My father, Dr. R.N. Kalra, is a cardiologist, so I knew as early as high school that I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He’s the medical director and CEO of Kalra Hospital SRCNC in New Delhi, India. My high school graduation project was on coronary angioplasty, and I recall vividly a NEJM paper published by Cindy Grines, MD, which showed how coronary stents were markedly better than balloon angioplasty with regard to restenosis rates in acute coronary syndromes. In India you go into medical school directly after high school, so it was at that time that I was debating between becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon or a cardiologist. I remember going into a conference with my father and that image of a coronary stent just stuck and it fascinated me. I thought the future would be very exciting and I would want to do something like that. So I have been dreaming the dream for a while and now living it, which is great.
What has surprised you most about becoming an interventional cardiologist?
First, that it is the most studied and evidence-based field. I'm always awestruck when I look at the amount of literature that has been published by mentors, which just tells us junior physicians that we are stepping into really big shoes. I'm amazed that for everything we do in the cath lab, there is a study that we can go back and refer to for the best evidence or the best practices. The other thing that surprises me is that though a lot of my mentors are very well-accomplished and internationally known, they remain very humble and approachable. I think humility is key particularly in our field because the cath lab is a great leveler. You'll have great days and you'll have bad days, and I think it's really important to stay humble, keep your head down, and do what's right for the patient—just be approachable and submit to the fact that no matter what you do complications will occur and that you are playing with fire the minute you step into the lab.
Who would you say has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
Obviously my father, who I've always looked up to. Otherwise, Deepak L. Bhatt, MD (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA), has been a terrific mentor with regard to efforts in clinical research. He is very approachable, humble, hardworking, and prompt at getting back to me with comments and edits. He's very well accomplished and has led many trials that have impacted the field, and yet his willingness to help fellows and junior faculty is commendable. His most important lesson to me has been humility. Second, Robert W. Yeh, MD (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center). If I want to model a career path after someone’s, it would be closest to his. What I've learned most from him is focus. He has certainly carved a niche for himself clinically in the CTO world and academically in outcomes research, and yet he’s stayed focused and has achieved maximal outputs in both the clinical and research fields. Third, my mentor for life is Neal S. Kleiman, MD (Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center, Houston, TX). Aside from being approachable, humble, down to earth, hardworking, and very involved with his patients, I have never seen him flustered. He is always very polite to both patients and fellows all the time.
What is your best advice for someone who is interested in pursuing a career in cardiology?
My advice would be to have perseverance, discipline, and humility. These qualities pay off irrespective of where you are in your career, even more so than being smart. Also, it's important to be emotionally intelligent, because I think that translates into patient care and how you conduct yourself in the cath lab and with colleagues.
What is something that people might not know about you?
People might not know that I really enjoy watching films. I'm a movie buff, and I could watch any good film, but my inclination is to watch Hindi cinema because that's my native language and those are the films that I was raised on. The other activities that I really enjoy are singing and Bollywood dancing. That would probably be a surprise for a lot of people, at least here in the US.
What his nominator, Deepak Bhatt, MD, says:
Kalra is a highly motivated, hardworking second-year interventional fellow. He reached out to me to write together and to do research and has been very productive. He seeks out opportunities wherever they are and pursues them with vigor.
*To nominate a stellar cardiology fellow for the Featured Fellow section of TCTMD’s Fellows Forum, click here.