Pivot Points


Two women leaders at Weill Cornell Medicine whose professional paths have connected discuss the power of mentorship — for themselves and other women in academic medicine.

Black and white photos of middle-aged smiling South Asian woman in white doctor’s coat with shoulder-length hair partially facing middle-aged smiling East Asian woman in glasses and white doctor’s coat with shoulder-length hair, transposed onto solid, bright yellow background. They are (on left) Dr. Renuka Gupta, and (on right) Dr. Judy Tung.
Photos: John Abbott

Left to right: Dr. Renuka Gupta and Dr. Judy Tung

An advocate of faculty mentoring and a primary care internist, Dr. Judy Tung was appointed associate dean for faculty development in 2020. She also leads the mentorship initiative Leadership in Academic Medicine Program (LAMP). Dr. Renuka Gupta is an expert in discrimination against health care providers and has developed policies at Weill Cornell Medicine to help providers who encounter discriminatory or abusive patients. In 2020, she succeeded Dr. Tung as chief of medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital.

How their bond was forged

Dr. Gupta: I immigrated here around two decades ago from India. For the first three years, I struggled with no mentorship, no one to talk to or share with, no family, no friends around. I met Judy on the floors at Weill Cornell Medicine around 2010. She was the first person who complimented me on a fairly minor leadership task. It was really heartwarming.

Dr. Tung: I remember meeting Renuka when I was invited to co-direct the LAMP. Renuka was a participant, and I was able to observe her engagement as a young leader. Following the program, she invited me for coffee and she talked about wanting more in her career, beyond the clinical medicine she was practicing. She wanted to explore different opportunities for leadership, ways to widen her spheres of potential influence.

Dr. Gupta: It was not my intention to seek out a mentor, but it just felt good to talk to someone with whom I could relate — as a full-time practitioner, a leader and a mom.

A significant mentoring moment

Dr. Tung: In 2016, when Renuka wrote a very poignant article in Annals of Internal Medicine that described a personal experience she’d had with racism, she was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. We discussed how this could be her new scholarship niche or offer her new roles in the organization related to her budding expertise in this area. There were many potential paths unfolding in front of her, and it was an honor for me to be a sounding board as she explored those options.

Dr. Gupta: That article was a turning point for me. Since then, I have given talks all around the country, and I’ve taken on a mentor role by opening up a forum for women in health care at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan. This forum includes not only physicians, but any woman at LMH who touches a patient — whether it is a social worker, a security person, etc. We get together every three months to share ideas and create a network of support to grow professionally and also personally. We invite women leaders from our own institution to share their journey, so women can see that everyone has ups and downs. And Judy has been in that group. I think it’s really good for us to see our own women leaders grow and be an inspiration to us. If I can help one or two women, I’ll be happy.

On mentoring and its benefits

Dr. Tung: I think mentoring as a construct is deeply personal. Ask 10 people what mentoring means to them and you will get 10 different definitions. In my role as associate dean of faculty development, I have had the opportunity to think deeply and talk to many faculty about mentoring and I believe that there are three essential elements: it should be longitudinal, structured, and for the benefit of the mentee. I think that my relationship with Renuka has been a little bit of each. But because we’re also peers, the advisement and the benefit is often bidirectional; she will invite me to share with her the challenges that I’m facing. Our relationship is a little bit of mentor-mentee, a little bit of mentee-mentor, a whole lot of respected colleagues, and a little bit of friendship as well.

What they’ve learned from each other

Dr. Gupta: One thing I’ve learned from Judy is to be patient. I’m a person who wants things like this [snaps fingers]. With Judy I have learned, take it slowly. She is also just so darned diplomatic. I don’t know how she does it. But I really wish I could get that under my belt.

Dr. Tung: One thing I’ve learned from Renuka is to not be afraid to state your ambition. It’s always very clear to me when she’s itching to do something bigger, newer and bolder. And I love that about her. Also, she is unafraid to make connections with senior power — to seek the counsel of all of those individuals to get a variety of perspectives to inform her next steps. She breaks barriers, and she aligns herself with sponsors in a really beautiful way.  

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