Although her current job has taken her away from the bedside and out of the hospital, Karen Murphy remains engaged with contemporary health care issues.
Murphy, a 2007 doctoral of business administration alumna, oversees health care across the state as the secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Health.
Gov. Tom Wolf appointed Murphy to the position in May 2015. Under her leadership, the Department of Health has implemented several new initiatives like Pennsylvania’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which was created to address the national opioid crisis, and the Pennsylvania Rural Health Model.
Murphy said health care in rural communities has suffered because of a decline in inpatient admissions and the fee-for-service model, which charges patients based on each individual service they receive.
“Across the country, not only in Pennsylvania, residents in rural communities have poorer health outcomes than their urban counterparts,” Murphy said. “This new initiative actually provides hospitals with a … fixed, sustainable, regular income that allows them to develop a more stable business model.”
Before she became secretary of health, Murphy worked for two years at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, an organization created in 2010 through the Affordable Care Act that develops and tests health care payment and service delivery models, according to its website. For the 35 years prior, Murphy worked through the ranks of Moses Taylor Hospital and Healthcare System in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Murphy started working as a nurse in the 1970s, and she became the president of Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton in 2009. Murphy said her nursing career was a formative experience, essential to her subsequent decades of work in healthcare administration.
“I was an intensive care unit nurse, which was really an important part of my career and a wonderful learning experience,” Murphy said. “I think the nursing profession is certainly one of the most important in the healthcare field.”
Murphy added that her doctoral studies at Temple helped her further develop her research skills, necessarily to her current work in healthcare administration.
But more importantly for Murphy, she said completing her Ph.D. was a longtime goal and personal milestone.
“I really went for my Ph.D. because it was something I always wanted to do,” Murphy said. “It was much more of a personal fulfillment than a professional one.”
Jacqueline Zinn, a risk management and insurance and healthcare management professor, said Murphy’s career has “covered all the bases” in health care.
“She was a direct provider as a nurse, she was an academic, she was in government work and she managed a healthcare system,” said Zinn, who was also Murphy’s dissertation adviser.
Beyond her professional accomplishments, Zinn said she appreciates Murphy for her humility and selflessness.
“She’s just a genuinely humble, self-effacing person,” Zinn said. “She calls herself ‘Karen from Scranton.’”
William Aaronson was Fox’s assistant dean for research and doctoral programs during the time Murphy studied there.
“I can’t put into words the pride that I felt when [Murphy] was appointed as secretary of health,” said Aaronson, now the department chair of Health Services Administration and Policy in the College of Public Health.
In her many roles as a nurse, healthcare administrator and now secretary of health, Murphy said her passion for healthcare has always been driven by a desire to help people.
“I always found it very personally and professionally rewarding to know you’re trying to make a difference for patients and families … whether you’re at the bedside, or whether you’re in administration, or you’re trying to make broad, effective health care policy,” Murphy said. “I think when you feel passion you know what that is, and mine has always been health care.”
Ian Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ian_walker12.