Childhood dream come true: Read Dr. Ben Carson’s “Gifted Hands” when she was ten years old

Maya Johnson

Many years before she earned a medical degree and could officially call herself a doctor, Tamara Gafoor was honing her skills at the playground, taking the initiative and tending to her tiny peers in the sandbox.
“When I was six-years-old I had a Fisher-Price doctor’s set and I’d go around putting band-aids on the other kids,” Gafoor, a multitasker by necessity, tells me over the phone while getting ready for an overnight shift at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.GEN-SIMULATION-CATASTROPHE
(Full disclosure: It’s not unusual for me to have phone conversations with Gafoor. She’s a longtime friend, and I know her as “Tammy,” so I cannot feign total objectivity in writing this.)
Now, 31, Dr. Tamara Gafoor works as an attending emergency physician at the MUHC’s pediatric institution, a professional accomplishment that speaks to the determination that was evident even as a student in elementary school.
“It’s a fulfillment of a childhood dream. I knew when I was 10-years-old, after reading Dr. Carson’s ‘Gifted Hands’, I wanted to be a physician,” she says.
She’s referring to Dr. Ben Carson, the man now poised to possibly win the Republican nomination in the race to become president of the United States. Carson has made headlines for his controversial statements on everything from Muslims to abortion.
“I am not impressed by him at all right now,” she says.
But she explains that reading his autobiography as a child fascinated her, and she was inspired by his unlikely journey from the inner-city streets of Detroit to director of pediatric neurosurgery at the renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore at the age of 33.
Gafoor’s own resume is impressive. Throughout her high school and post-secondary studies, she excelled, winning numerous awards for her academic achievements and extra-curricular involvement. Her high marks in the Health Science program at Marianopolis College earned her a spot in McGill University’s competitive pre-med program, where she was ushered in with the McGill University J.W. McConnell Entrance Scholarship.
She graduated from McGill’s medical program amongst the top students in her class, earning the Newell W. Philpott Award for Outstanding Achievement in Obstetrics and Gynecology along the way.
In her role as an ER physician at the Children’s, Gafoor has taken on a plethora of responsibilities: she is the director of the Pediatric Advanced Life Support course for the MUHC, a member of the McGill medical admissions committee, and is responsible for faculty development on the pediatric emergency education committee. She is also a member of the “Code Orange” committee, which simulates crisis situations for disaster planning purposes.
It is, no doubt, a stressful and challenging environment, but it is one in which she thrives.
“It’s constant puzzle solving” she says. “I work well under pressure.”
“It demands being able to think quickly and connect with families that are probably at their worst.”
Gafoor says working within the chaotic confines of the ER affords her a view of “the thin line between life and death,” and a perspective that influences her own daily attitude.
“It is a constant reminder to live life in the moment and take nothing for granted.”
Gafoor considers work-life balance a priority, and makes a point of disconnecting from her demanding job by routinely indulging in some of her favourite activities – working out with her boyfriend, spending time at the spa, travelling, going out to dance, exploring Montreal’s culinary scene, and spending time with her family.
She credits the support of her parents, friends and the community for her success.
“I think you have to believe in yourself and be surrounded by people who believe in you,” she says.
Gafoor also stressed the importance of generosity and giving back to the community. She commended Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban for his recent $10 million donation to the Children’s – an unprecedented gift to the institution, whose atrium now bears his name.
“It’s really nice to see a man – a Black man – who has so much influence be able to use it for good, and it’s something to aspire to. It was very touching,” she says.
Her advice to those forging a career path?
“Work hard and never forget, when you make it, all those who helped you get where you are.”