Interview with Kiran Gupta

A Conversation with Kiran Gupta, Assistant Clinical Professor

Kiran means "Ray of Light" in Sanskrit while Gupta is derived from a word that means "protector." Have you ever considered how your names might have influenced your life?

Kiran GuptaWhen my parents were choosing my name, my mom was intent on a name that could not be too easily mispronounced, as many Indian names have many syllables, so they went with a name with two syllables and meaningful to them. My parents still tell me that I bring light into their lives.

Where were you born and raised? Would you speak about your relationship with your parents and family?

I was born in Great Neck on Long Island. My parents are both originally from India but left in their early 20s to pursue their medical careers in the United States. I grew up with two physician parents who went to work every day and worked really hard. I saw the joy that they derived from their work and that had a huge impact on me. I had a stable childhood—we didn't move around and I still have many of the friends from there that I grew up with. I would say that my parents are two people I admire most, and the values that I consider most important come from them. My mom is an OBGYN and this will tell you how much she loves her work: she is 70 and still works full-time. My dad, who practiced both internal medicine and cardiology, is retired. My younger sister, who is a lawyer, lives in San Francisco. It's great having her here!

Is there a favorite smell that takes you back to childhood?

Growing up, my grandmother always used a certain lavender-scented moisturizer and, whenever I smell lavender, I think of her. She was soft-spoken and spent a lot of time with us when we were little. She was a very loving part of my childhood and we were very close. Then I got older and busier with school and activities and, when I was in college, she passed away. My only real regret is not realizing soon enough that she wouldn't be there forever.

How long were you a correspondent for The Boston Globe? What impelled you to write such personal stories? Is writing how you work things out? Is Twitter as satisfying?

This was fortuitous. I remember sitting in my call room one night during my intern year, writing about my patients and checking off tasks I had completed, and I realized how strange and interesting and emotional it was. I described my feelings in an email to my best friend and she, in turn, asked if I would write for The Financial Times in London while another columnist was on maternity leave. At first I questioned if this was what the lay public would want to hear about. Communication can have many purposes. For me, the writing was about the stories of the patients we care for, how those stories impact us, and the work we do. When The Boston Globe approached me about writing, because they wanted more content about medicine and health care, I said yes and was a correspondent for them for 2 years. I probably need to give social media another chance: my website and my Twitter account were created by my husband, who has encouraged me to put myself out there a bit more!

In The Importance of Listening to a Patient's History, you wrote, "I sense that my generation of physicians is losing something precious . . . time with our patients."  In a busy hospital such as UCSF, have you found time to find time?

One thing I have definitely realized is that taking care of patients is an extremely grounding experience, and what often gives me great joy is sitting at a patient's bedside and not doing the talking but rather doing the listening to the patient and their family. If my job is to help take good care of them, I cannot do that without listening to their concerns, priorities, and values, and sometimes that is the best part of my day.

Where is it that you haven't been already that you would like to travel? Are you a museumgoer, an outdoor enthusiast, or a pool lounger?

My husband and I love to travel—that is probably our favorite thing to do together, and we always have a very long list of destinations in mind. Because I've lived on the East Coast all my life, I haven't spent time exploring Asia and the Pacific. I want to go to Indonesia, Thailand, and New Zealand. We like a mix of culture and activities, and we try to explore cities, get a sense of local culture, and end with a couple days of relaxation before going back to everyday life.

What are the strengths of an introverted or shy individual?

I wouldn't necessarily describe myself as shy but I am somewhat reserved in settings where I do not know people that well. Once I get to know people and who they are, I usually feel comfortable fairly quickly. I tend to observe quietly, learning who people are, what they enjoy, and how they work. I love sharing time with good friends; for me, it is about the quality of friendships and relationships and spending the time to maintain them regardless of time zone and geographic distance.

Is there a trait or habit about which very close friends and family tease you?

My close friends and family tease me about the fact that I have two left feet and can trip over nothing (and I often do trip over nothing)! My sister would probably call me a klutz.

What makes you laugh wholeheartedly?

I laugh the most in the company of some of my good friends who have amazing senses of humor; one in particular could probably be a stand-up comic. Laughing is the best, especially that kind of laughter where you laugh so hard your stomach hurts and you can't breathe.

Who do you turn to when you need guidance?

My husband probably knows me better than anyone. He is my best friend. He offers sage advice, a gut check when I need one, and he pushes me when I need to be pushed. He has never guided me wrong. He comes from a family of physicians, but he is not one himself so he adds a perspective that I might not otherwise have.

It's the holiday season. What temptations can you absolutely not resist?

That's hard, there are too many! My philosophy on baked goods and other unhealthy, but irresistible, items is this: if you're going eat it, it should be really good. My mom makes a carrot cake that I cannot resist. It is unusual in that there is no cream cheese frosting, just the cake (which I like better)!

Happy New Year, Kiran. Thank you.

- by Oralia Schatzman

View Kiran's professional bio | See previous interviews