Master Clinician: Elizabeth Murphy, MD, PhD

Elizabeth Lisa MurphyIn college, Elizabeth (Lisa) Murphy, MD, DPhil, discovered she could repair broken cassette players by replacing old motor belts with rubber bands. "I always like to figure out how things work so you can fix them," she says.

As an endocrinologist, Murphy delves into complex metabolic pathways with the same gusto. "I love looking for patterns and putting the puzzle pieces together," she says. "If you can help patients feel better, that is a really powerful thing."

After earning her medical degree from Harvard Medical School, a doctorate in biochemistry from Oxford University, and completing residency and an endocrinology fellowship at UCSF, Murphy served as chief medical officer at KineMed, a biotechnology company. Yet her love of patient care drew her back to San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) full-time in 2007.

She directs the Diabetes Center for High-Risk Populations, using her puzzle-solving skills to help individual patients and improve health systems. She and her team of nutritionists, diabetes educators and behavioral health experts help patients access healthy food, develop educational materials for low-literacy populations, and conduct outreach in jails. The Center also developed culturally specific classes. For example, many Hispanic patients are reluctant to take insulin because they think it causes blindness – which ironically can occur when doctors wait too long to begin insulin. "We established insulin ‘start groups' in Spanish and English, talking about these fears head-on for a full hour," says Murphy.

Because primary care providers manage most diabetic patients, Murphy's team created a newsletter with practical updates about medications and insurance regulations, and work on fixing systemic problems with pharmacies to lighten the burden on individual providers. The team has won several national awards for improving diabetes care for vulnerable populations.

Murphy is an enthusiastic and generous teacher, helping everyone from medical students to senior clinicians understand her thought process and hone their own abilities. She responds to endocrine questions on eReferral, an online system that allows providers in San Francisco safety net clinics to consult experts about specific patient cases, and also coaches other eReferral reviewers on how to provide the most useful guidance. Because access to endocrinologists is so limited, Murphy and her colleagues also recently started outreach clinics in Monterey and Contra Costa Counties.

"Lisa cares so passionately about our patients' welfare," says SFGH internist Margaret Wheeler, MD, herself a Master Clinician. "She is a born teacher and has an infectious interest in endocrinological problems."

Murphy advises trainees to continuously build their fund of knowledge, and enjoys teaching continuing medical education courses. "I choose topics that are controversial and that I don't know as much about, because it forces me to review the literature!" says Murphy. She also strives for balance. "You can spend a lot of time doing inconsequential things well, but save your A+ work for the things that really matter," she says.

Murphy is married to Beth Weise, a technology reporter at USA TODAY. They have two daughters, Ellie and Margaret.