In the 1960s, Gupta's parents, Subhash and Damyanti Gupta, moved from India to Novi, Michigan, to work as engineers for Ford Motor Company. Gupta and his younger brother Suneel graduated from Novi High School, and Gupta went on to receive his Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical sciences at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and his M.D. degree from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1993. He was part of Inteflex, a since discontinued accelerated medical education program that accepted medical students directly from high school.
As an undergraduate, Gupta worked as an orientation leader for the freshman orientation program, and was a member of the Men's Glee Club. He also served as president of the Indian American Students Association (IASA), which is now the second largest student organization at the university.
Gupta completed his residency in neurological surgery within the University of Michigan Health System, in 2000, followed by a fellowship at the Semmes Murphy Clinic, in Memphis, Tennessee.
Gupta is an Emory Healthcare general neurosurgeon at Grady Memorial Hospital and has worked on spine, trauma and 3‑D‑image-guided operations. He has published medical journal articles on percutaneous pedicle screw placement, brain tumors, and spinal cord abnormalities. He is licensed to practice medicine in New York, Michigan, Georgia and South Carolina.
During his reporting in Haiti following the January 2010 earthquake, Gupta received a call from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson that an earthquake victim, a 12-year-old girl, was aboard and needed a neurosurgeon. Gupta, a pediatric surgeon, Henri Ford, and two U.S. Navy doctors removed a piece of concrete from the girl's skull in an operation performed aboard the Vinson. Ford later wrote that Gupta "proved to be a competent neurosurgeon".
In 2003, Gupta traveled to Iraq to cover the medical aspects of the invasion of Iraq. While in Iraq, Gupta performed emergency surgery on both US soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Gupta was embedded with a Navy medical unit at the time, specifically a group of doctors called the "Devil Docs", who supported the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. A Marine named Jesus Vidana suffered a severe head injury, and the Marines asked for Gupta's assistance because of his background in neurosurgery. Vidana survived and was sent back to the United States for rehabilitation.
Gupta was named one of the sexiest men of 2003 by People magazine.
In December 2006, CBS News president Sean McManus negotiated a deal with CNN that would have Gupta file up to ten reports a year for the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and 60 Minutes while remaining CNN's chief medical correspondent and associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital.
On October 14, 2007, Gupta guest-hosted a health episode of CBS News Sunday Morning as its regular host Charles Osgood was on vacation. In February 2009, Gupta hosted AC360 covering the White House Health Summit. He also guest hosted Larry King Live in October 2009. In January 2010, Gupta and Cooper led CNN's coverage of the earthquake in Haiti. Gupta has regularly appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Real Time with Bill Maher and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Winfrey referred to Gupta as CNN's hero in January 2010.
In a 2013 editorial, Gupta announced that in the process of working on a documentary about marijuana he had changed his mind about the drug's risks and benefits. Gupta had previously criticized laws that allowed patient access to medical marijuana, but he reversed his stance, saying, "I am here to apologize," and, "We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that." The third part of his 3-hour documentary, "Weed 3: The Marijuana Revolution", was released in April 2015.
On January 6, 2009, CNN announced that Gupta had been considered for the position of Surgeon General by President Barack Obama.
Some doctors said that his communication skills and high profile would allow him to highlight medical issues and prioritize medical reform. However, others raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest with drug companies who have sponsored his broadcasts and his lack of skepticism in weighing the costs and benefits of medical treatments.
Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), wrote a letter opposing Gupta's nomination. Conyers supports a single-payer health care system, the sort that Conyers' filmmaker friend Michael Moore advocated in his documentary Sicko; Gupta has criticized Moore and the film.
Others, such as liberal commentator Jane Hamsher, defended the appointment, noting that Gupta's responsibilities as a surgeon general would be not that different from those of his CNN position, and that Gupta's media presence would make him ideal for the position. From the medical community, Donna Wright, of Creative Health Care Management, a regular commentator on medicine and politics, also defended the appointment on the grounds of his media presence, combined with his medical qualifications, which she viewed as an ideal combination for the post of surgeon general. Likewise, Fred Sanfilippo, executive vice president for health affairs at Emory University, supported Gupta's nomination by issuing a press release saying: "He has the character, training, intelligence and communications skills needed to help the United States improve its health and health care delivery systems in the next Administration." The American Council on Exercise, listed by PR Newswire as "America's leading authority on fitness and one of the largest fitness certification, education and training organizations in the world", endorsed the nomination of Gupta "because of his passion for inspiring Americans to lead healthier, more active lives". The ACE sent a letter of support to senator Edward M. Kennedy. Former surgeon general Joycelyn Elders also supported Gupta's nomination, saying: "He has enough well-trained, well-qualified public health people to teach him the things he needs to do the job." In March 2009 Gupta withdrew his name from consideration for the post, citing his family and his career.
Some journalists and journalism professors specializing in health care have criticized Gupta's coverage. Trudy Lieberman, a regular Nation contributor on healthcare and director of the health and medicine reporting program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, reviewed Gupta's "ineptitude" in reporting on the McCain health plan. Lieberman criticized Gupta for relying on insurance industry statistics, and a health expert quoted by Lieberman said that Gupta's reporting “gives a gross oversimplification".
Peter Aldhous criticized Gupta's "enthusiasm for many forms of medical screening – even when the scientific evidence indicates that it may not benefit patients". He and other medical journalists accuse him of a "pro-screening bias" in promoting widespread electrocardiogram and prostate cancer screening, even though medical authorities like the US Preventive Services Task Force recommend against it.
Others have criticized Gupta's promotion of Merck's cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil, without disclosing the financial arrangements between CNN and Merck.
Gary Schwitzer, professor of health journalism at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism, has also criticized Gupta's reporting.
A July 9, 2007, broadcast of CNN's The Situation Room aired a fact-check segment by Gupta on Michael Moore's 2007 film Sicko in which Gupta stated that Moore had "fudged facts".
Immediately following the segment, Moore was interviewed live on CNN by Wolf Blitzer. Moore said that Gupta's report was inaccurate and biased, and Moore later posted a detailed response on his website. Moore accused CNN of being biased in favor of the drug industry because most of the sponsors for their medical coverage were drug companies.
On July 10, 2007, Gupta debated Moore on Larry King Live; on July 15, CNN released a statement in response to Michael Moore's rebuttal. In it, they apologized for an error in their on-air report, having stated that in the film Moore reported Cuba spends $25 per person for health care when the film actually gave that number as $251. CNN attributed this to a transcription error. CNN defended the rest of Gupta's report responding point-by-point to Moore's response, contending that comparison of data from different sources in different years was in effect "cherry picking" results, at the cost of statistical accuracy.
On April 28, 2012, Dr. Gupta was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree for his accomplishments in the medical field. Gupta also gave the commencement address at the spring commencement ceremony held in the University of Michigan Stadium. On June 12, 2016, Dr. Gupta addressed the Oregon Health & Science University graduating class of 2016.
Gupta is married to Rebecca Olson, a family law attorney. They were married in 2004 in a Hindu wedding ceremony. They live in Atlanta and have three daughters.