ID Spotlight

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Johns Hopkins ID Insider

Dr. Amita Gupta is the Deputy Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Clinical Global Health Education and Professor of Medicine for the Division of Infectious Diseases with a joint appointment in International Health with the Bloomberg School of Public Health. A global health pioneer, her work and her reputation precedes her and her background is as layered as her expertise. Dr. Gupta was born Philadelphia but spent her formative years traveling the world, living in India, England & France. College brought her back to the states and while her work has kept her here, she has an impressive international presence and known as a fierce global and community health advocate.

Did you always know you wanted to be a physician?

No, actually I didn’t. I finished high school, at the American School of Paris, and I did this program called International Baccalaureate that allows you to have the flexibility of either staying in Europe or coming to the U.S. because you do the course work that’s equivalent. While I applied to various colleges, I ended up at MIT probably because I come from a family of engineers; my father and grandfather were engineers; and like the stereotype goes in India families, you either became an engineer or a doctor.

So while my family stayed in Europe, I moved to Boston, pursued a degree in material science engineering (Course 3 as it is known as at MIT). However while going through the whole curriculum, I realized that I wasn’t as passionate as I thought I was and found myself gravitating towards public health and the AIDS epidemic, which at that time, was gaining momentum and was highly politicized. I became pretty politicized when I was an undergraduate and even got arrested for anti-apartheid demonstrations. There is actually a picture of me on the front page of the local newspaper being dragged away in handcuffs because we were protesting MIT’s investment in South Africa. With respect to HIV, I had a floormate who was a hemophiliac and had developed HIV. He opened our eyes to the reality of HIV. This motivated me to get more involved, and I did AIDS education on campus, which included carrying around condoms and teaching about safer sex! I also had the good fortune of meeting David Baltimore, who was a Nobel Laureate and a biology professor at MIT and Harvey Feinberg who was the Dean of Harvard School of Public Health and went on to lead the Institutes of Medicine, and helped them organize a MIT course about HIV. Listening to the seminars, I got really interested in the global aspect of HIV because it was social, it was political, it was a disease that didn’t have treatment and it impacted people that were disenfranchised and didn’t have a voice no matter where they lived. So I shifted my career and took pre-medical courses toward the end of collage and took a year off after college to work at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in their AIDS bureau. There, I worked on HIV surveillance and testing policies as well as access to care issues focusing especially on women affected by HIV. I also volunteered at the Fenway Health Center, a LGBTQ community health center in Boston, and the AIDS Action hotline. This complimented my understanding of both community and government perspectives of HIV response.