On the Day of Women and Girls in Science, meet an ophthalmologist and researcher who has broken down barriers for women passionate about the eye

February 11, 2021

By Ana Gajic

Dr. Neeru Gupta, wearing a white lab coat, works in her laboratory.

Dr. Neeru Gupta

When Dr. Neeru Gupta finished medical school, she responded to an ad to become a family physician for communities experiencing marginalization in British Columbia, which eventually took her to Powell River, a small city north of Vancouver.

It was there, assisting a fly-in ophthalmologist with surgeries once a month, that Dr. Gupta discovered the eye. She was captivated by the delicate surgical eye procedures that had a profound impact on the daily lives of patients to restore and preserve their sight.

Now, Dr. Gupta is an ophthalmologist herself and a scientist at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science. This year she crossed new frontiers when she became the first female Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Glaucoma in the paper’s 30-year history, and the first female President of the International Council of Ophthalmology (ICO) since the organization’s beginnings 170 years ago. For the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Dr. Gupta shared her path and the lessons she’s learned along the way.

“I could never have predicted the journey that I’ve been on,” she said. “I feel like I haven’t worked a day in my life. I get up and I’m excited, I’m enthusiastic. I love what I do.”

After learning about the eye in Powell River, Dr. Gupta decided to pursue a PhD in neuroscience followed by a residency in ophthalmology. Since then, she has worked as a clinician on the frontline battling blindness and illnesses of the eye, a clinical researcher exploring new treatment options for patients, and a biomedical scientist unearthing the mechanisms that lead to and signal debilitating eye disease.

“Sight is a special sense. Whether it’s a grandmother who’s able to see her grandchild for the first time or a group of people sitting around a dinner table looking at each other and having fun, sight has drawn me in.”

In her new capacity as Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Glaucoma, Dr. Gupta reviews science from around the world to publish the latest discoveries in glaucoma research.

“For somebody who’s done the 360 – who’s been the scientist, the clinician, who’s done both basic science research and clinical research, I can relate to the work of my colleagues at a deep level. It is a privilege.”

Her work at the ICO is different but related. The organization’s mandate is to support the life cycle of the ophthalmologist at every stage of their career – from resident physician to leader. In her capacity as President of the ICO, she represents the ophthalmologists of the world to the World Health Organization (WHO). The ICO also ensures that low-resource areas have access to tools to provide the best possible care – something Dr. Gupta has been passionate about since her work as a family doctor in B.C.

“This role is about taking care of the blueprint of the future. Where do we want our field to go? At the end of the day, it always comes back to providing the best care possible for our patients.”

Dr. Gupta has a clear message for those interested in a career that pushes boundaries: seize every opportunity and take risks.

“When someone reaches out to you to ask for your support, the first step is to say yes, despite the challenges. If you’re able to say yes, you will find a way to do it. That process will help you grow and serve and will set you up for the next opportunity to contribute. The risk is really worth it.”