America’s Health Messenger: Sanjay Gupta

Sanjay Gupta sees himself as a doctor first, but he is best known as CNN’s chief medical correspondent, reporting on breaking medical and health news, and translating technical medical jargon into information viewers can use to live longer, healthier lives.

“People look at my two careers as disparate, but I see them along the same continuum,” Gupta says. “As a doctor, I take care of patients one at a time, and as a communicator, you do it for lots of people at the same time. I think part of my job is to provide knowledge for people that is actionable.”

A practicing neurosurgeon, Gupta, 40, is also an Emmy award-winning reporter. He reported on the war in Iraq as an embedded correspondent with the U.S. Navy’s medical unit and from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

He’s the associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital and an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

As a medical correspondent, he travels the world, gathering research and information to help people live longer and healthier. It has become his ikigai, an Okinawan term for sense of purpose, he says. Gupta believes a sense of purpose should be rooted in the daily question, What can I do today to make the world a better place? “As a healthcare provider, I want to help people become more knowledgeable or directly impact their health as a neurosurgeon.”

But he didn’t always know what he was meant to do. “I was a writer for a long time on health care and healthcare policy, and then I worked in the White House, primarily as a White House Fellow writing speeches for then fi rst lady Hillary Clinton. And it got me interested in the different ways to get messages out there. It gave me the bug a little bit.”

The next part was a bit serendipitous, he says. “I was recruited by the guy who was the CEO of CNN at the time. I wasn’t at all sure what I was getting myself into when I fi rst started. But it’s seven or eight years later now, so it has been very interesting to me.”

"Everyone has a personal responsibility to take care of his or her body for people who love them and for people they love."

Gupta also co-hosts Accent Health for Turner Private Networks, providing medical segments for the syndicated version of ER on TNT and has launched a weekly podcast on iTunes called Paging Dr. Gupta. He began tweetering in May, and in two months’ time, has a half-million followers.

“I have a lot of people come up to me who say, ‘I am here today because of what you said.’ That is very gratifying to me.”

He shares his message on how to live a long and productive life in his New York Times Best- Seller, Chasing Life. His second book is the newly released Cheating Death.

“We have this basic understanding that when the heart stops beating, the person has passed away. There are a lot of other ways to reverse that process along the way,” Gupta says. Cheating Death explores the idea that people live when no one thought they would. “It’s about dissecting why some people have a very good outcome and taking lessons learned and applying it across the board.”

Everyone has a personal responsibility to take care of his or her body for people who love them and for people they love, says Gupta, who is married with three kids— his youngest born last March. “After having kids, I really came to the realization of something I have known all along, that life doesn’t last forever. For some people, it’s having kids, for other people, it could be an illness or a loved one who gets sick and passes away. It got me thinking that we all have a certain time on Earth, and if we want to live longer lives, we want to make sure that life is more exceptional—free of disease, full of function, mentally and physically.”

He hopes to share what he learns with as many people as he can. “There’s a lot more healthcare illiteracy in this country than people realize. A lot of people are confused as to how to best take care of themselves. I hope to become a bridge for people who want good healthcare knowledge.”

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