You may not think of Sparta, N.C., as a hot spot for medical training and mentorship. However, from 2001-11 -- while Maureen Murphy, M.D., was practicing family medicine in the tiny mountain town -- a steady stream of medical students and residents visited to train under her.
2016 Family Physician of the Year Maureen Murphy, M.D., relaxes for a moment in her busy North Carolina practice.
The same thing happened at Murphy's practice in Gastonia, N.C., during the 10 years before that.
"For decades, she has been a tireless supporter of students interested in primary care," said L. Allen Dobson Jr., M.D., a longtime friend of Murphy's and president and CEO of Community Care of North Carolina(www.communitycarenc.org), a public-private partnership of physicians, hospitals, public health departments, community agencies and others devoted to delivering quality care using a medical home model.
As a student preceptor, a North Carolina AFP leader, a residency faculty member and a personal mentor, Murphy has encouraged and taught hundreds of soon-to-be family physicians.
"At the annual meeting when she received the North Carolina Family Physician of the Year Award, they asked all of the students she had mentored or brought to a meeting to stand up. It was a huge number of students, residents and physicians," Dobson recalled. "There is no better testament than the legacy of people who have gone into family medicine because she touched their life or career."
- Maureen Murphy, M.D., of Concord, N.C., has been named the 2016 AAFP Family Physician of the Year.
- Murphy is lauded by students, residents and colleagues alike as a quintessential educator and mentor.
- Murphy also has thrown herself into creating programs to benefit students far into the future through her leadership in the North Carolina AFP.
Because of her enthusiasm for the specialty, dedication to compassionate and comprehensive care, and her work as a role model to so many health professionals, residents and students, Murphy has earned the AAFP's 2016 Family Physician of the Year (FPOY) award.
Enthusiasm Rooted in Journalism
Murphy didn't come to medicine in the traditional manner. Hailing from the Sunflower State, Murphy received her bachelor's degree in English and journalism from Pittsburg State University in southeast Kansas. After working as a television reporter, she went into public relations, eventually becoming PR director for the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, located at the Academy's headquarters. It was a position that would forever alter the course of Murphy's career.
"I was writing all the PR stuff about what it is to be a family doctor," Murphy recalled. "I started to believe in what I was writing, and I decided I still needed a challenge."
She began taking the science courses she needed for medical school and got a job as an aide in a hospital emergency department. "When I had my interview for medical school, I told them I wanted to be a family doctor. I didn't even consider anything else. I was fortunate; I got in."
Murphy received her M.D. from the University of Kansas School of Medicine. She completed her residency at Duke (University) Family Medicine Residency in Durham, N.C. She taught for a few years at East Carolina University's Brody School of Medicine in Greenville and worked for the Gaston County Health Department and Piedmont Health Care Associates before settling at Gaston Family Docs in 1993.
Compassionate, Comprehensive Care Where It's Needed Most
Located in Gastonia, a suburb of Charlotte with a significant obstetrical care access problem and a shortage of family physicians, Murphy's practice provided full-spectrum care, including obstetrics. She quickly became the doctor labor nurses, midwives and other physicians chose for their own care.
Murphy chats with one of her patients, while Ying Vang, M.D., now a second-year resident at Cabarrus Family Medicine in Mount Pleasant, N.C., looks on. Murphy is highly regarded by students, residents and colleagues alike for her passion for mentoring the next generation of family physicians.
"Each time I've moved, I've acquired patients I'm devoted to," Murphy explained. "In Gastonia, I delivered three babies for a couple of folks. Sometimes, I saw the whole family … grandma, cousins. I love being in the community and making that better."
While in Gastonia, she helped establish a family medicine department at Gaston Memorial Hospital. She was named chair of the department in 1991 and became hospital chief of staff in 1994.
In 2001, Murphy moved to Sparta, a community with an even greater need for high-quality health care. Shannon Dowler, M.D., completed a residency rotation with Murphy in the rural town.
"There was always a shortage of providers (in Sparta), so the family docs there were really doing it all. They are fundamentally responsible for the whole care of the patient," Dowler explained. "She really was a leader for their hospital systems and community. Everywhere she goes, she has this touch where she brings humor and, at the same time, dignity to whatever she's doing."
Jennifer Mullendore, M.D., M.S.P.H., completed her family medicine clerkship in Sparta with Murphy. Then a third-year medical student, Mullendore lived in Murphy's and her husband, Scott Maxwell's, basement apartment. It was an experience that cemented her choice in specialty.
"I witnessed the deep appreciation her patients had for her and the joy she received in caring for them. While working with her, I gained valuable insight into the importance of cultural competency and of having a holistic view of the lives of your patients," Mullendore wrote in her FPOY nomination letter. "I truly believe that if every medical student had an experience like I did with Dr. Murphy, we'd see the numbers of students going into family medicine skyrocket."
In addition to precepting and teaching, Murphy has championed several student programs through her leadership in the North Carolina AFP (NCAFP). She served as a board member from 1996-2002 and was president in 2001. She also served as president of the NCAFP Foundation from 2004-09.
Here, Murphy looks over a patient chart with Josh Hall, D.O., now a third-year resident at Cabarrus Family Medicine. Hall is one of the program's chief residents.
During her presidency, she helped create the NCAFP Foundation's Medical School Endowment Fund to finance student interest initiatives. A charismatic fundraiser, Murphy is well known for impassioned and humor-filled speeches that result in big contributions. Today the foundation's endowment stands at almost $1.2 million and funds a variety of student interest initiatives.
She also started the Student Buddy program, which gave physicians and sometimes residents the opportunity to support a student by footing the bill for their academy meeting fee. And she established the NCAFP Student Leadership Elective. The elective provides opportunities for fourth-year students to work with the chapter on advocacy, education and leadership projects.
Today, Murphy continues to care for patients and nurture the careers of future family physicians as a residency faculty member for Cabarrus Family Medicine in Concord, N.C. Whether she's mentoring a student during clinic, over a meal or at an academy meeting, Murphy is unwavering in her commitment to the future of family medicine. When asked why she continues to commit her time and talents to encouraging new family docs, she's quick to respond.
"Family medicine is more than just a specialty or a job. We are the answer to our broken health care system, and I want to recruit those really good students into family medicine and see things change," she said.
"Maureen is someone who genuinely loves what she does," said Dowler, who has maintained a decades-long friendship with Murphy. "It's easy to want to follow in the footsteps of someone who is genuinely interested in the profession.
"She has the gift of helping people find their path without telling them what to do."
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