Five Questions With: Dr. John B. Murphy

Dr. John B. Murphy has been practicing medicine with a focus on geriatrics for nearly 40 years. During that time, he has accumulated numerous accomplishments and titles, including his current role as president of Rhode Island and Hasbro Children’s hospitals, but it was his work as a geriatrician that earned recognition in May by the American Geriatrics Society.

Murphy was presented with the 2020 Dennis W. Jahnigen Award for his efforts to improve both medical care for aging patients and education for health care providers working within the broad field of geriatrics.

PBN: What was your reaction to being honored with the 2020 Dennis W. Jahnigen Award?

MURPHY: I felt very honored to be selected for this award. I knew Dennis, who died as a young man, and had tremendous respect for what he accomplished in education for geriatric professionals. Being recognized by an organization which I had the honor to lead as president and board chair is particularly gratifying.

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PBN: You were recognized for your work in training health professionals to address the broad needs of older patients. Why is it important to create geriatric care frameworks?

MURPHY: The health care needs and process of care needed by older patients are unique. Health care professionals need the training and expertise to be able to provide this care. Caring for older persons requires a functional approach to providing care and measuring outcomes. It is more about the quality of years than the number.

PBN: What are some examples of programs or innovations that you’ve helped create in Rhode Island?

MURPHY: While at Brown, Memorial Hospital and Lifespan [Corp.], colleagues and I have created educational programs for primary care residents, nurses and geriatric/palliative care fellows. We have also started clinical programs, including co-management programs in geriatrics and hip fracture, as well as inpatient consultation teams.

PBN: What draws you to the field of geriatrics?

MURPHY: Older people have wonderful stories. Their stories can be instructive to all of us. This is particularly relevant today, because I have had many older patients in the last 40 years describe what it was like to live through the 1918 influenza pandemic. I believe that their stories empowered me to lead a more aggressive stance for the Lifespan hospitals early in this pandemic.

PBN: How is the field different from when you began practicing medicine 40 years ago?

MURPHY: There have been many advances in the field, particularly in the areas of cancer and vascular disease. These advances have allowed older patients to live more independent and longer lives than was the case 40 years ago. There has also been a much wider recognition that caring for older persons requires teams of care givers, for example nurse care managers and pharmacists in ambulatory practices working with the physicians and advanced practice professionals.

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN contributing writer.