Dr. Maureen Murphy started out as a journalism major, but one of her earliest jobs, doing public relations for the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, convinced her she would like to be a family doctor.
At 30, she started medical school at the University of Kansas, in her home state. She did her family medicine residency at Duke University and stayed in North Carolina for her entire career – working at East Carolina University in Greenville, at family medicine groups in Gastonia and Sparta, and now at Cabarrus Family Medicine in Concord. She made it a point to mentor other medical students and residents. And for her dedication to teaching the next generation, she was honored earlier this month as the 2016 Family Physician of the Year by the American Academy of Family Physicians. She is the fifth North Carolina doctor to be so honored.
“She’s probably done more to recruit people into primary care than any single physician in North Carolina,” said Dr. Allen Dobson, past president of Cabarrus Family Medicine, who had tried to recruit Murphy to Concord for years. “No matter where she has been, she’s always taught medical students.”
A few months ago, Dobson said he flew home from a Washington business trip so he could meet the crew filming a short documentary about Murphy to show at the academy’s national meeting in Denver. When Dobson arrived at Murphy’s house, he found about a dozen medical students having chili with Murphy and her husband, Scott Maxwell. “She does that all the time,” Dobson said.
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Murphy, now 64, was nominated for the national award by the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians, which named her the state’s Family Physician of the Year last December. When Murphy accepted that award, before an audience of more than 400 at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, Dobson said “half the room stood up” when she asked for a showing of those she had mentored.
Murphy, showing humility and humor, demurred: “I don’t think it was half the room. But it was a lot.”
“I don’t have kids of my own,” she added. “Those are all my kids. That’s the way I think of them.”
Many of those “kids” were also at the Denver meeting when she got the national award. Another special guest was her longtime friend and former “cadaver partner” from medical school, Dr. Robert Moser, a former Family Physician of the Year in Kansas.
“I could come up with 20 Bobs” deserving of the national award, Murphy told me. “I’m just going to represent them all. There’s so many good people out there, both in our state and across the country.”
In her acceptance speech, Murphy exhorted colleagues to “seek out a medical student or resident today, and tell them why you went into family medicine. Buy them lunch or a cup of coffee.… Empower the next generation. That’s the only way we’re really going to have continuing care for our patients, by having someone to care for them when we are gone.”
She told me later, “I just want medical students to see what great people family physicians are. You may not be Christiaan Barnard (who performed the world’s first heart transplant), but you’re making changes, small changes every day with people. And your patients trust you.”