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CNN's Sanjay Gupta treats injured baby in Haiti [Updated]

Among the scores of journalists who have descended upon Haiti in the last two days, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta brought with him a unique skill set. As the associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Gupta regularly performs surgeries at Emory University and Grady hospitals. As he headed to Haiti on Wednesday, Gupta tweeted that he did not plan to set aside his role as a doctor, even though he was going into the field as a journalist.

“Many have asked: of course, if needed, I will help people with my neurosurgical skills. Yes, I am a reporter, but a doctor first,” he wrote on Twitter.

He quickly donned that hat. In a four-minute video that was the lead item on CNN.com this afternoon, Gupta examined a 15-day-old baby with a head injury whose mother had died in the quake. After placing the child on a wooden plank serving as a makeshift exam table, Gupta gently probed the baby’s skull for signs of a fracture. He concluded that she didn’t appear to have a fracture, and then he and a producer wrapped the infant’s head in gauze.

This wasn’t the first time Gupta has brought his medical skills to bear on assignment. In 2003, while embedded with the U.S. Navy’s "Devil Docs” medical unit in Iraq, he performed brain surgery five times.

His actions trouble some media ethicists, who said it’s problematic for Gupta to be toggling between the roles of reporter and a doctor.

“There definitely are cases where a journalist who is qualified can and should provide medical assistance when the need is immediate and profound,” said Bob Steele, journalism values scholar at The Poynter Institute and journalism professor at DePauw University. “The problem in Dr. Gupta’s case is that he has done this on a number of occasions in Iraq and now in Haiti. If it’s imperative that he intervene and help medically, then take him out of his journalistic role and do that. But don’t have him covering the same stories in which he’s a participant. It muddles the journalistic reporting. It clouds the lens in terms of the independent observation and reporting.”

Steele also questioned the prominence CNN gave the piece, which got significant play on the network and online. “Frankly, it isn’t much of a story,” Steele said. “You can’t help but look at this and worry there is a marketing element in it.”

CNN defended Gupta's work, saying his first priority is his responsibility as a physician. "As a doctor first, Sanjay has been offering medical support while on the ground in Haiti and will continue to do so," a spokeswoman said. "However, as he has done in Iraq, Pakistan, and post-tsunami Sri Lanka, he is also determined to raise awareness of the medical conditions by reporting on this enormous humanitarian crisis through his unique prism."

The network plans to continue to harness Gupta’s medical expertise for the story. On Saturday morning, he will host a live special about the medical relief efforts in Haiti.

Last year, Gupta was being considered by President Obama to be U.S. surgeon general, but withdrew his name as a candidate, saying he wanted to continue to practice medicine and focus on his family.

[Updated at 2:43 p.m.: In a conversation with Larry King last night, Gupta addressed how he juggles both roles. “It's a thin line sometimes between medicine and media and what I do,” he said. “But, as you know, Larry -- you and I have talked about this -- I'm a doctor first.”]

-- Matea Gold

Comments () | Archives (25)

C'mon people...wake up! This was such a staged scene...the baby was asleep....and then Gupta woke it up by tugging on it's legs...this is all in an attempt to put Gupta up on a pedastal. How many more seriously injured people did he pass just to get to this 15 day old infant...with a scratch on his forhead? How can Gupta say that he is a Doctor first...when his day is spent trying to get that perfect shot of the so called "Most Heart Wrenching Moment". You (CNN & Gupta)are all just Ambulance Chasers!

i am ready to give the little angel a home. the 15 day old baby that was saved by dr. sanjay gupta.. it would be very hard for the baby to survive right now without a mom..i would be a good mom and it will have both parents a loving home to come too. tell me waht to do to adopt the little bundle of joy..im married and im 28yrs old. i was told i couldn't have kids since i was 21.. please help me. the very first time i saw the baby i fell in love with her. please help me...

i agree... enough reporters -- more drs needed... hey CNN let Dr GUpta put on the "dr" hat and let's drop the "reporter" stuff for now! get your priorities straight

Dr. Gupta's penchant for medical grandstanding is a little grating. Really, everytime he heads into a disaster or war, the big story is that he heroically provided medical treatment to somebody. This persistent self-promotion is taking on the appearance of a reality TV show masquerading as news. Frankly, he ought to stick with medicine and bow out of "journalism." Journalists are a lot easier to come by these days than doctors.

Every little bit helps I guess but in the video Sanjay Gupta looks like a med student examining his first neonate. He doesn't seem able or comfortable when trying to opening the baby's eyes -- almost like he's afraid. He does a very cursory neurological exam and what he does he does out of order. And he doesn't even check the baby's vital signs. This is all basic stuff that a 3rd year med student could do better.

Additionally, he says the baby has "a laceration under the skull." What?!? That is not even anatomically possible. How is Gupta not familiar with even basic medical terminology and anatomy? Also, when Gupta decides there's no fracture, he declares the child fine forgetting that trauma to the soft skull of an infant can be accompanied by dangerous bleeding under the skull even without a fracture. Finally, he looks like he's never applied a head dressing before -- something a full-time neurosurgical doctor or nurse could do with his or her eyes closed.

Despite his claim of "being a doctor first," it appears he's really a reporter first and a doctor as a hobby. This is not surprising as either job alone demands more than a full time commitment to do well. Trying to do both results in the severe compromise of at least one of the skills as is clearly shown here. And the fact that he allowed this embarrassing video to be posted shows he doesn't even realize how lacking his medical skills are. Scary! He should stick to reporting and do only basic first aid under the guidance of real, full-time doctors and nurses.

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