Amy Murtha, MD, Dean of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
You come with an impressive background: Professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Services at the University of California, San Francisco, and professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Department of Pediatrics at Duke University. What drew you to New Jersey?
I grew up in Rockland County and have family ties to the east coast and to New Jersey. When Rutgers came knocking, I wasn’t ready to leave UCSF. But the more I learned about what was happening here in New Jersey the more intrigued I became. There is incredible opportunity for impact, not just in the medical school but in partnership with the RWJ Barnabas Heath system, Rutgers University, and our communities to transform health care delivery in many ways. There’s real opportunity, for instance, to allow patients to get complex care in the state without having to cross a bridge to New York or Philadelphia. It’s a special moment for health care delivery for New Jersey.
What do you see as your one or two top priorities?
One is ensuring that we have the top-notch innovative tertiary/quaternary care in New Jersey. And that requires us to highlight the excellence that we already have here — and then recruit innovators, physicians, and scientists to continue to build on that excellent foundation. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve experienced in the short time that I’ve been here and the outstanding community of physicians and scientists.
And then we know that New Jersey ranks fourth in the country for the percentage of physicians over 60, and 31st in the country in retaining the physicians that we train in the state. We lose a lot of them. A contributor to that — not the only reason — is the high cost of medical education. Medical student debt is significant in New Jersey, and we are in the more expensive bucket for tuition. A priority of mine is to identify resources to either offer more scholarships or reduce tuition. Several organizations around the nation have eliminated tuition for medical school, which opens medical education up to a broader range of students.
New Jersey’s overall rates of maternal morbidity and mortality as well as the state’s intolerable racial disparities in maternal and infant health have spurred unprecedented and wide-ranging efforts to improve outcomes for new parents and all babies born in our state. What role can medical schools in New Jersey play in these efforts?
A medical school, especially one that is part of a large health system, has an opportunity to inform best practices for care and delivery and to standardize care delivery across the state. Change across the system is an easier bar than across the state, but that is what other states have done and there’s no reason we can’t do that here. In fact, some of that work is well under way. And then we need to study care delivery in the populations that we serve, which are perhaps different than the populations in North Carolina or California. There is a need to meet patients where they are, understand how they engage with the health care system, and provide patient-centered care and partnered care. The partnership with communities is essential to understanding what the needs are — and to structure our care delivery models in the way that best support those needs.
California significantly reduced maternal mortality by implementing standardized care, but also through a list of other things: Centering, or group prenatal care, doula care, and midwifery. All are important components of this work. At RWJ Barnabas, we are building out these programs across the system.
At UCSF, under your direction, OB-GYN residents learned from and were trained with midwives. How could a model like this be replicated in New Jersey to support patients?
I was the inaugural medical director of the midwifery program at Duke and expanded the midwifery program at UCSF. As medical director, I had the opportunity to understand the impact of midwifery on care delivery and in training. In my opinion, having midwifery practices in teaching hospitals is critical. There is a significant amount of work to align cultures to effectively provide care and to teach, but it’s absolutely doable.
At UCSF, we had midwifery students and interns learn normal deliveries from experienced midwives. The midwives work side-by-side with the residents. The model I’m accustomed to is a midwife on labor and delivery, taking care of the normal laboring patients, and then often a midwife to make sure triage was being managed.
This is on my list of things to do. Linda Flynn, Dean of the School of Nursing, and I have had conversations. And I remain a mentor on some of the midwifery programs at UCSF. I understand the importance of building out midwifery programs.
Finally, we like to ask a question beyond a person’s professional work. Can you tell us who your favorite New Jersey artist is, i.e., singer, writer, actor?
This is super easy. During my teen years, I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert six times. Since I’ve been back on the East Coast, I’ve had the opportunity to see him again. It brought back incredible memories. As a high school student, my friends called my car the “BruceMobile.”