Anita Gupta, DO is the first woman physician anesthesiologist to co-chair the American Society of Anesthesiologist Committee on Prescription Opioid Abuse. She is a professor of medical education and lead of the Ideas Innovation Lab at the California University of Sciences and Medicine. In addition to this, she is a practicing anesthesiologist, pain medicine specialist, pharmacist and adjunct professor of anesthesiology, critical care, and pain medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Gupta was appointed by the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the FDA to lead the expansion of naloxone in the U.S. Doximity recently spoke with Dr. Gupta about advice for early-career women in medicine and some of the valuable lessons she has learned during her career.
Dox: What advice would you give to an early-career medical resident in anesthesiology?
AG: For early anesthesiology residents, voraciously build your knowledge and skills continuously. There is always more to learn in medicine. Immerse yourself in the latest research, pursue specialized training, attend conferences, and learn from experienced mentors.
As Indra Nooyi advised, "Lead with confidence and humility. Let your actions reflect your aspirations."
Developing expertise will give you the competence and confidence to handle complex cases and be a leader in the field. Keep growing.
Dox: What has been your very best moment as an anesthesiologist? How did it make you feel?
AG: One of my most rewarding moments was when I alleviated a patient's severe chronic lower back pain after numerous failed treatments. Seeing their look of pure joy and relief as they could stand and walk pain-free for the first time in over a year after my targeted interventions was incredibly meaningful.
As Oprah Winfrey wisely said, "Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness."
In pain management, we cannot help every patient, but when we can truly improve lives diminished by suffering, it is an honor and privilege. Those moments remind me why I chose this specialty.
Dox: What’s something you learned in medical school that you use every day in your job?
AG: A vital lesson from medical school that I apply in my work each day is that providing comprehensive patient care requires seamless collaboration between specialists across health care teams.
As Mae Jemison, MD, said, “It’s important that we work together and not isolate ourselves. That’s how we grow— by embracing diversity.”
As anesthesiologists and pain physicians, we must communicate closely with primary care doctors, surgeons, physical therapists, nurses and others to fully understand the patient’s needs and customize integrated treatment plans. No single perspective can address all aspects of a patient’s health and pain. But together, we can achieve so much more.
Dox: What is the most impactful lesson you’ve learned while working in anesthesiology?
AG: The most profound lesson I have learned working in anesthesiology and pain medicine is that treating patients requires more than just medical expertise — it demands truly seeing each person as a fellow human being.
As the writer Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, poignantly expressed, “The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”
Each of my patients has their own fears, hopes, family, and personal story. When I take the time to listen, connect, and understand their perspective, it provides insights that deeply inform how I can best care for them. Medicine is not solely a science — it is a fundamentally human endeavor. This motivates me to bring empathy and compassion to my practice every single day.
Dox: What one change do you think is most important for women in medicine to accomplish?
AG: I believe one of the most impactful changes needed for women in medicine is to achieve equal representation in leadership roles at the highest levels — as deans of medical schools, directors of hospitals, presidents of anesthesiology boards, CEOs, heads of major businesses, and medical associations. We need more women leading major medical institutions to shape policies and catalyze continued progress.
As Michelle Obama passionately declared, “If you’re the only woman in the room, make sure you're not the only woman in the room."
Having more diversity of thought and experience at the top will lift up people of all genders in the medical field.
Dox: Tell me about a time when you felt empowered as a woman in medicine.
AG: I felt truly empowered as a woman in anesthesiology when I was chosen to spearhead a first-of-its-kind program at our hospital focused on providing compassionate pain care for underserved populations. Being selected for this visible leadership role based on my expertise, rather than excluded due to gender biases, was incredibly affirming.
As Melinda Gates once wisely said, "A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman."
In the male-dominated field of anesthesiology, I had faced doubts before about my capabilities as a woman. But this opportunity proved I could excel and lead major initiatives to improve patient lives. I was so moved to see dozens of minority patients in our community receive access to respectful, specialized pain care — care that reflected their needs and experience. It reinforced for me that female physicians provide unique value, and we should be confident advocating for our voices to be heard.
Dox: On a lighter note, if you had an extra hour in the day, how would you spend it?
AG: I would spend the extra hour with loved ones, cherished relationships, and creating memories, which are invaluable and timeless.
Interview conducted by Suzanne Baga, MA, RRT
Dr. Gupta has no conflicts of interest to report.
The author acknowledges the use of artificial intelligence to assist in development and research in this article.
Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz