Today we’d like to introduce you to Reena Gupta.
Reena, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I have been a passionate lover of music and voice since early childhood. I had a music teacher in elementary school who helped me to find my own singing voice, inspiring me to audition for shows and choirs and to put myself on stage. As a child of two physician immigrants from India, I had never really considered singing or music and wasn’t exposed much to the arts so this was a real transformation for me. I am far from an extrovert but once my eyes were opened to music, I found I loved performing.
I am by nature a very hard worker and have a scientific mind. My parents had a huge influence on my work ethic and, as respected physicians themselves, shaped helped me to see the beauty in caring for others. I would spend summers in my dad’s medical office where I didn’t mind doing mundane tasks like filing because I could watch him practice medicine and watch his patients get better. I knew early-on that I was going to be a doctor and that music was always going to be a beloved hobby of mine.
It wasn’t until medical school that I discovered a field called Laryngology. It’s a sub-specialty within Ear, Nose and Throat, and as I explored it more, I discovered how it would allow me to care for the voice. It felt like this field of medicine had been created just for me. I had found a way to merge the two things that mattered most to me. I never looked back and dedicated the next eight years to earning my spot as a Laryngologist.
After graduating from training, I came to Los Angeles. It was hard to leave New York, my home, but I knew there were many physicians already treating voice there. I knew I wanted to create something different and new in voice care. I was surprised find very few Laryngologists in Los Angeles, despite the density of performers here, and I knew that this was where I could create the voice center of my dreams. It took me ten years to build the experience, relationships, support and expertise in voice care that I felt necessary to start out on my own. But this year, I opened the Center for Vocal Health. It’s the only place of its kind, where professional voice users can access personalized, innovative and empathetic care that attends to all their needs as artists.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The road has been bumpy, to say the least. I have been blessed in so many ways. I have the most supportive family in the world. Despite not knowing much of anything about the world of voice, my parents took me to Broadway shows, paid for private voice lessons, and let me travel for singing competitions and performances. My husband didn’t bat an eye when I asked if we could move across the country so I could explore my own professional opportunities, leaving behind both our families and all our friends.
That support was really instrumental in getting me through the harder times. Medical and residency training were extremely difficult, with mercilessly long hours in the operating room and endless nights on call. We have come a long way since women were first allowed into medical schools but the operating room is still a pretty male-dominated place, especially in leadership. This was no different in practice, where I was part of an all-male team. Trying to navigate being a surgeon, developing a practice, and being a wife and then a new mother all at the same time was extremely challenging.
I had two children while developing my practice, and was back in the office within three weeks of having my second child, worried about losing what I had built professionally and hoping I would be forgiven missing the early milestones of my children. Hoping I could forgive myself as well.
My biggest challenge has been opening my own Voice Center. Doctors quite simply get no training for this in medical school. It’s actually a running joke (an unfunny one) that doctors are awful at business. But how can we be otherwise? We spend a long time learning to do things in a way that are bad for business because the very things that result in the best patient care (working overtime, volunteering to improve access to care, etc.) don’t work in business. But none of us would have it any other way; it just makes the mindset shift really complex and difficult.
When I recently separated from my previous practice to create the Center for Vocal Health, I was having to make these huge decisions with relative ignorance as to how to make them. I’m seeing patients during the day and Googling “How to Write a Business Plan” at night. Operating during the day and filling out loan applications all night. I finally felt like I had a light ahead of me and then, when COVID-19 hit a few weeks before I was supposed to open, I knew I was in trouble. These few weeks have been incredibly stressful, praying for a loan to process trying to support my patients who need me at the same time. The stress is so high right now. Every time I go into the hospital, I’m asking myself questions about my own mortality. I updated my will and my entire estate plan, which I really wasn’t emotionally prepared for. It does make me look back at those early years with my kids differently. But I do know that much of this is out of my hands right now and I have focused my energy on what I can do something about.
Please tell us about Center for Vocal Health.
The Center for Vocal Health (CVH) is a medical, surgical, health and wellness center that provides customized, innovative and complete care for the professional voice. I spent ten years focused on the medical and surgical care of the performing voice. This allowed me to develop a deep understanding of the singer, actor, and voice artist. I was able to define their needs and the gaps in their care and treatment that have resulted in vocal injury, canceled performances, lost voice work and prematurely ended careers.
Medical and surgical care are important, but they do not answer to all the needs of a voice artist. The professional voice user is an athlete of the voice and requires the same breadth and level of care as any other athlete. I did extensive research with vocal coaches, labels, management companies, and artists to refine this concept and CVH is the product of that work. I am really proud of Center for Vocal Health because it treats vocal artists as whole humans, not just a set of vocal cords. We are able to provide access to services through a network of qualified people who are equally passionate about and devoted to the voice.
Our focus is a comforting patient experience coupled with the most advanced and personalized care. Many artists come to us having had experienced elsewhere where they felt like just a number or, worse, the exam was uncomfortable or scary and they didn’t feel empathy. That breaks my heart and so it’s been our mission to ensure that patients leave feeling better, feeling we’ve lightened their load and that they are on their path to healing.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
My brother has teased me for what he calls my good luck. He says opportunities fall into my lap. I don’t know how I feel about that but the truth is I do feel really lucky. I have stepped back at times and wondered how I’ve managed some of the things I have and sometimes it does just feel lucky.
The truth is that it is probably a combination of luck and what you do with the doors that luck opens for you. I also think that good luck comes with good karma. My parents have a precise moral compass – never do anything that you think might hurt someone else. I’m awful at lying because my heart isn’t in it. What I’ve found is that when I treat people the way that works for me, which is with kindness and respect rather than manipulation, our relationship is guided by those principles. While luck might put me in the room with the right person, luck turns into a good outcome if we do right by it.
There’s a flip side to that, of course. Sometimes it has resulted in me being taken advantage of or not being treated like an equal, especially as a woman. Nice women are often treated as less intelligent or driven. I’m okay when people underestimate me like that, though. It tells me more about them than me.
That said, bad luck happens too. The timing of all this, projecting a business to start at the height of COVID-19, is bad luck, pure and simple. But I had to do something with that bad luck. So I developed a virtual vocal educational conference to replace my annual in-person conference. It’s called The Voice Forum and it will be an incredible educational event. The reality is I never would’ve taken the conference virtual if this hadn’t happened. But virtual conference organization has been a learning opportunity, a chance to fundraise for COVID-19 relief for artists, and a wonderful way to democratize vocal education to those in other parts of the world. We have attendees from 5 different continents and I now have a few more skills under my belt.
I wouldn’t call myself an optimist but I do believe that luck happens, good or bad, and then we must react to it and do something with it. It’s the hard work that can make even bad luck result in an outcome that seems like good luck.
- The Voice Forum – all access 4 day pass $195
- Address: Center for Vocal Health
8920 Wilshire Blvd, #604
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
- Website: www.centerforvocalhealth.com
- Phone: 310-736-4272
- Email: email@example.com
Diana Feil Photography