Paula J McMurtry, MD

Rheumatology, Boone Health Rheumatology

I grew up in Farrell, Pennsylvania – a steel town 70 miles north of Pittsburgh. My undergraduate degree in biology is from Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa. and I attended medical school at Hahnemann University (now Drexel) in Philadelphia. I am married to John McMurtry, MD, a retired urologist, and we have two grown children.

Why did you get into the health care field?

I started thinking about medical school my junior year at Westminster. No one in my family thought of going to medical school or college. I used that summer to look at medicine or veterinary medicine. I chose people over puppies.

What interested you in your particular specialty?

Because I decided late to go to medical school, I went to Duquesne University for a Master’s in Immunology. When I did get to medical school, I decided on rheumatology about 2 months into the first year because of my interest in immunology.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I like to educate my patients about their inflammatory arthritis or connective tissue disease. I want them to understand why medication is important for disease modification. I think this takes some of the fear away.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Medical insurance is always challenging. Biologic medications for rheumatic diseases are expensive, and you have to be flexible on your plan. You also need to help the patient have flexibility and patience with what their insurance is willing to cover.

What do you see changing in health care in the next 5 to 10 years?

In rheumatology, the changes are with biologic therapy coverage. This is already happening with insurance denying hospital-based infusion centers for administration of biologics or copay assistance only lasting 8 months for self-injectable biologics. I fear that one day there will be a population that cannot afford biologic medications.

What advice would you give someone looking to become a doctor?

I told my children that they needed to choose a path they will enjoy, but part of the enjoyment is being able to pay their bills. I tell younger people that I do not regret the decision to go to medical school. I have enjoyed the interaction with people and the challenging cases. Having a patient feel much better with less pain is rewarding. I also feel that I am continuously learning even after 30 years of practice. If a person is looking for that type of career, then look at medicine. My daughter was looking for that career and has graduated from Sidney Kimmel School of Medicine at Temple University. My son choose aerospace engineering and aviation finance as aviation has been his interest.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

When I was 10, I asked my father for a piece of the backyard to have a vegetable garden. He said okay as long as I planted one tomato plant for mom. I have not stopped gardening since. Since moving to Missouri, I have a greenhouse that keeps me busy with gardening all 12 months.

What advice would you give to someone who is going to be a patient in a hospital for a period of time?

I am not sure I can answer this question – I try to keep my patients out of the hospital.