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Movers And Shakers In Medicine: Dr. Sanjiv Chopra

Dr. Manju Sheth

(In this edition of Movers and Shakers in Medicine, we present Dr Sanjiv Chopra. In addition to his accomplishments in the field of medicine, Dr. Chopra is  also a best selling author, a great teacher whose courses in leadership skill training have been impacted thousands all over the world )

Dr. Sanjiv Chopra is Professor of Medicine and Faculty Dean for Continuing Medical Education at Harvard Medical School, and Senior Consultant in Hepatology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston. He has more than 120 publications and five books to his credit and is the Editor-in-Chief of the Hepatology Section of UpToDate, the most widely used electronic textbook in the world.  He has won many awards including the George W. Thorn Award, Excellence in Teaching Award from the Harvard Medical School, Robert S. Stone Award and the American Gastroenterological Association’s Distinguished Educator Award. He was most recently Elected as a Master of the American College of Physicians 2009.

A prolific author, Dr. Chopra has already published several books including “Dr. Chopra Says: Medical Facts and Myths Everyone Should Know,” co-authored with Dr. Alan Lotvin, which was published in January of 2011.  It has received wide acclaim and has been translated into multiple languages. A paperback version of “Live Better, Live Longer. The New Studies That Reveal What’s Really Good and Bad for Your Health,” was published in March of 2012.

His book, “Leadership by Example:  The Ten Key Principles of all Great Leaders” will be published by St. Martins Press in the spring of 2012.  It has received singular advanced praise by many leaders in the United States and abroad.

Dr. Sanjiv Chopra is also the brother of  Dr. Deepak Chopra, the world-renowned mind-body healing pioneer. One becomes immediately curious about the parents who raised such inspirational people who have had a tremendous impact on the world. 

Chopra remembers his childhood fondly.

“I had a magical childhood.  My father was a cardiologist in the Armed Forces Medical Services and was posted every three years to a different town.  I was born in Poona (Pune).  I graduated in 1966 from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). My brother Deepak and I had the most amazingly inspirational, loving and awe-inspiring parents.  My father and my uncles were all great story tellers.  My uncles would visit us on a frequent basis and hold us spellbound with stories that I remember to this day,” says Chopra.

In this idyllic childhood there was a tragic moment that created a deep impression on young Chopra’s mind.  At the age of twelve he suddenly lost his sight. He underwent relentless  testing and in the end it was his father’s superior diagnostic skills that was able to bring timely intervention and treatment that saved his sight.  The incident was a significant contributing factor towards his career decision to become a doctor.

He married Amita Rani Chopra at the young age of 20.  They were classmates at AIIMS.  “We have been married for 42 years! She is my best friend,” says Chopra. “She is a brilliant individual, a pediatrician, a teacher of transcendental meditation and a gifted singer.  She has nurtured and led our family with dignity, strength and passion and continues to inspire me in countless ways.  We are blessed with three children, Priya, Kanika and Bharat.  Kanika is married to Sarat Sethi ,who is like a son to me. They recently celebrated their 10th anniversary.  They have two children, Aanya and Mira – our grandchildren – and the light of our lives.  They live in New York and I get to see them every three to four weeks and talk to them all the time.”

The Chopras moved to the States in 1972.  They completed their residency in New Jersey and moved to Boston in 1973. “Following my residency and fellowship in Gastroenterology and Hepatology, I joined Harvard Medical School and have now been privileged to work at this great institution for 30 years. My transition to the US was very smooth. I am very lucky that so many people have packed my ‘parachute’. I have had wonderful mentors all the way,” says Chopra.

Dr. Sanjiv Chopra absolutely loves what he does. “If I have to live my life again I would not change any thing. I am absolutely privileged and honored to be doing what I do.  I am passionate about teaching. I hope that I and my colleagues at Harvard Medical School not only inform but perhaps inspire physicians from all over the world to cherish all that is best and glorious about the medical profession and that through their work their patients lead healthier and happier lives,” says Chopra.

Chopra’s teaching is not limited to the medical field. A great leader himself, he is passionate about instilling leadership skills in others. His courses on leadership skills are transformative. “In the last several years I have become passionate about the topic of leadership.  I have now been privileged to give a talk “Leadership by Example.  The Ten Key Principles of all Great Leaders,” to about 60,000 individuals in the United States and to scores of folks all over the world.   My book with the same title will be released by St. Martin’s Press in May of this year. Although I have had a ton of fun doing this and learned immeasurably, my goal is to inspire young people to lead.  Two years ago, with a colleague, Dr. Frank Domino, a professor of Family Medicine at University of Massachusetts, we started an elective for fourth year medical students at UMass on Leadership and Life Skills.  It has been very well received.”

Despite a very busy career in medicine, he has found to time to write several books that have been very well received. “I’ve always thought that the best way to learn or master a topic is to write about it.  Writing entails a lot of hard of work, dedication and sacrifices but the process itself is quite liberating and at the end, it is a bit of a thrill,” says Chopra.

Mahatma Gandhi is a leader that Chopra truly admires.  “My favorite leader is Mahatma Gandhi.  I read his books, books written about him and his quotes all the time in order to continue to remain inspired. He was masterful in his eloquence and in the images he conjured up for the masses, I recall pictures of him spinning the cotton wheel and declaring “It is my certain conviction that with every thread I draw, I am spinning the destiny of India.”  I recently heard a wonderful interview on NPR where Sir Ben Kingsley was being interviewed and he was talking about what a life changing event it was for him to portray Gandhi.  He said his record for sitting at the spinning wheel non-stop was seven minutes.  Gandhi’s was nine hours! Albert Einstein said of Gandhi, “Generations to come it may be, will scarce believe that such a man as this, in flesh and blood, walked upon this earth.”  Gandhi of course has been an inspiration to legions of leaders including Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung Suu Kyi and also the young people of Tunisia and Egypt who led the peoples revolution,” says Chopra.

Chopra is  a walking encyclopedia of famous quotes. Some of his favorite quotes are:

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost.  That is where they should be.  Now go put the foundations underneath.”  - Thoreau

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily.  Not to dare is to lose one’s self.” -  Soren Kierkegaard

“Never bend your head.  Always hold it high.  Look people straight in the eye.”  - Helen Keller

Some special tidbits about Dr Chopra - his favorite food is Biryani and ‘Lotus root sabzi’. His favorite movies are  Dr. Zhivago, Gandhi and Pakeezah. Meena Kumari, Dev Anand and Amitabh Baachan are his favorite bollywood stars. His favorite travel destination is  New Zealand  - “ the countryside, the vineyards, the golf courses, Milford Sound and the warmth of the people make it one of my favorites,” says Chopra.  His
favorite Indian destination is the Ajanta Ellora caves. M.S. Subbulakshmi and Zakir Hussain are his favorite musicians.

He considers eternal optimism, passion and compassion as his three defining traits and hates gossip and negative energy.

What advice would he offer Lokvani readers?

“I often share the following with patients and friends:
The most powerful thing you can do is to meditate.  There is a wonderful ancient saying - You should meditate once a day and if you don’t have time to do that, you should meditate twice a day!  Seize every opportunity to celebrate good things, big and small, with you friends.  Your friends are your chosen family. Express gratitude on a regular basis.  Recent studies show that being grateful not only makes you happy, but also healthier.  Be generous of heart.  As St. Francis of Assisi known as the joyful beggar said so eloquently,  - "For it is in the giving that we receive,"  says Chopra.

With so many accomplishments under his belt, does he still have other goals he would like to pursue? "An ambitious goal that I would like to work on would be the creation of a Leadership Institute in Boston. The mission of which would be to create 100,000 leaders in the next ten years,"  says Chopra.
It was a great honor to speak with this truly inspirational doctor who leads by example and believes in the values of Karma and Dharma. He urges everyone to chart their own destiny, be the master of their fate and learn to lead in all exemplary ways.


(Dr. Manju Sheth is a Board Certified Internist at Beverly Hospital. She is the President Elect of IMANE-Indian Medical Association of New England. She was chosen as India New England News' ''Woman of the year 2011''. Dr Sheth also won INEN /Readers Choice Award for Best Doctor in 2011. )

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