A Woman to KNOW : Kelsey Vickers
Charu Gupta: A Journey of Heartfelt Medicine and Transformative Care

By Myra Stacey

Charu Gupta’s journey into medicine is as unique as it is empowering. Born and raised in a small West Texas town, her life was uniquely framed by the world of healthcare from the outset. Both her parents were pediatricians, fostering in her a deep-rooted understanding of medicine. Growing up amidst a close-knit circle of physicians, Charu’s early exposure to the medical field was more than just familial; it was her community’s fabric.

In her town, home to a vibrant Indian community, Charu observed a concerning prevalence of heart disease, a reality that touched her family as well. This personal connection spurred a growing interest in the widespread impact of cardiac conditions on communities like hers. It was this interest that eventually shaped her career focus. Charu was particularly moved by the longitudinal aspect of patient care she witnessed in her parents’ practice — the ability to care for individuals and siblings – and those patients’ children down the line. This aspect deeply resonated with her, cementing her interest in chronic heart disease, especially congestive heart failure. For her, the appeal lay in the lasting connections and recurring dialogues with patients, getting to know the patients as well as their families’ values, and helping them navigate the various stages of their lives.

Charu likens her focus on congestive heart failure to dealing with a ‘cancer of cardiology,’ highlighting the ongoing battle against this pervasive condition. Her medical training took her across the United States, from the South, where she has deep roots, to the West Coast, Atlanta, Nashville, and eventually to the Midwest. Each region offered unique insights and experiences, shaping her medical perspective and approach. The Midwest represents a balanced medium for Charu, combining elements she values from each place she has trained.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the creation of your current company?
One of my most vivid memories, dating back to my medical school days, revolves around a congestive heart failure patient. I remember observing my mentor, a seasoned physician, who had seen this patient as a child when he required his first heart transplant. As years passed, that child not only grew up under my mentor’s care but also survived and thrived after a second heart transplant. Remarkably, the same doctor was there for him into his thirties. This continuity of care, the ability of one healthcare provider to impact a patient’s life so profoundly over many years, truly fascinated me.

What do you think makes your company stand out?
My unique approach to people and medicine distinguishes it, influenced by the holistic perspective instilled in me by my parents. They taught me that it’s about what we can do and what we should do. This philosophy involves asking everyone involved the right questions to ensure the best decisions are made.

I feel that I connect with people on a more interpersonal and holistic level than some physicians, who might be more focused on clinical trials and statistics. My approach is to simplify complex medical jargon and concepts, hopefully making them more understandable and accessible. By doing so, I try to get to the heart of the issue, ensuring that everyone can grasp what’s happening and what choices they have.

What has been your favorite moment in your career so far?
Choosing a single favorite moment in my career is quite challenging, as there have been numerous high points, especially during my training and in my daily practice. One of the most exhilarating experiences was taking care of a patient from the time they discovered they had heart problems to seeing them successfully come through transplant or heart pump surgery. Witnessing them recover and do well post-operation brings a unique sense of excitement and hope for the future.

Similarly, making a slight change in a patient’s medical regimen or even discontinuing medications and seeing them return feeling better is incredibly rewarding. For some people, this may be in the last six months of their lives, but it still makes a difference in the quality of that life. Of course, my career also involves serious and sometimes sad conversations. Yet, even these situations can positively impact families when we are able to identify unique values and how to best honor a patient’s wishes and support them during challenging times. These experiences collectively shape the most memorable and meaningful aspects of my career.

What measure do you use to determine success?
For me, success is deeply personal and has evolved over time. It’s anchored in the happiness and fulfillment I derive from my daily work. A significant part of this comes from the time I spend directly engaging with and caring for my patients, as opposed to administrative responsibilities.

I also measure success by the impact of my work — what I can deliver and, importantly, how my patients perceive and benefit from it. If, after 30 years of practice, my patients don’t feel they have received high-quality and compassionate care, I would consider my efforts incomplete.

What piece of advice has impacted you the most?
The mantra ‘Pick your battles’ has been a guiding principle for me. Growing up, I had a somewhat idealistic view of the world, seeing things in stark terms of right and wrong, what should be done and what shouldn’t. However, with time and experience, my perspective has broadened; I’ve come to recognize the existence of more gray areas than I initially realized.

I’ve learned the importance of not engaging in every battle that comes my way. Not all conflicts lead to meaningful change. It’s about being strategic in the battles you choose to fight. Making a real difference often depends on how you approach these challenges with your goal at the forefront. This understanding has been pivotal in both my personal and professional life.

What message would you like to give to anybody who has a plan of creating something of their own and making a living through it?
For anyone venturing into creating something of their own, I believe one of the most crucial factors is to surround yourself with the right people. It’s essential to find a work environment where you are surrounded by colleagues who share your values, and goals, and communicate effectively. Though no situation is perfect, being authentic is key to a sustainable endeavor. We’re inherently part of a team in my field, and much of our success hinges on collaboration and mutual support, rather than competition. It’s not just about the individual effort; it’s about creating and being part of a supportive and cohesive group that drives collective success.

Charu Gupta’s journey in medicine, marked by deep empathy and dedication, began in a small West Texas town. Raised by pediatrician parents, she developed an early understanding of healthcare, influenced significantly by the heart disease prevalent in her community. This led her to focus professionally on chronic heart conditions, especially congestive heart failure. Charu’s medical training across the United States honed her commitment to long-term patient care and emphasized the importance of patient-doctor relationships. Her career highlights include witnessing patients’ recovery after surgery and supporting families through health challenges, which she finds incredibly fulfilling. Her professional ethos, guided by the principle ‘Pick your battles,’ reflects her understanding of medicine’s complexities. Charu’s advice to emerging professionals emphasizes the importance of teamwork and shared values in any field. Her story goes beyond her medical expertise, showcasing the compassion and humanity she brings to her practice. It reminds us of the significant impact one individual can have in healthcare.

Lynne Kimmich

More About Dr. Charu

Dr. Charu Gupta, based in Chicago, specializes in advanced heart failure cardiology, with a rich educational background including a medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and subsequent fellowships at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco. She’s deeply involved in the broader medical community through her work  with Endeavor Health, the Chicago Women in Medicine Summit, as well as national cardiology memberships. Her clinical expertise is supported by significant contributions to medical literature and her activities as vice-chair of her institution’s ethics committee.  Dr. Gupta’s care philosophy emphasizes compassionate treatment, evidenced by her extensive work with community clinic patients, pregnant women, and chronically ill individuals. She is a rising star in Chicago’s medical scene, recognized for her commitment to patient care and medical innovation​.