Last Updated: Mar 22, 2019
Keith Murray, MD, FAWM, FACEP, is an emergency medicine physician with UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh, Pa. He serves as medical director for two Pittsburgh SWAT teams. Dr. Murray also serves as Clinical Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the recipient of PAMED’s Everyday Hero award for March 2019.
Emergency physician Keith Murray, MD, doesn’t hesitate when asked why he chose his specialty. “You can directly impact someone’s life in a short period of time,” he says.
The fast pace of emergency medicine also drew Dr. Murray to the field. He’s a high-energy person who is eager to challenge himself through new experiences.
While training at the University of Chicago, Dr. Murray made a connection – with the help of his wife, surgeon Jennifer Holder-Murray, MD – that would shape the direction of his career.
His wife was completing a trauma rotation in Chicago, and she saw how important a role the police played in stabilizing patients before they could be treated at the hospital. She realized her husband would enjoy working with law enforcement and introduced him to Dr. Andrew Dennis, a trauma surgeon at Chicago’s Cook County hospital as well as a police officer. That’s how Dr. Murray’s work with police SWAT teams – units specially trained to handle critical threats to public safety – began.
After Dr. Murray and his wife moved to the Pittsburgh area, he found new opportunities to work with law enforcement. He now serves as medical director for two SWAT teams in Pittsburgh. The teams typically train 16-24 hours per month. “We try to make it as realistic and tough as possible,” Dr. Murray says.
Dr. Murray’s team had to rely on that rigorous training on the morning of Oct. 27, 2018, when they were called to respond to an active shooter incident at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. A shooter had opened fire on worshipers at the synagogue, and 11 people lost their lives that day.
It was the kind of call that emergency responders hope they never have to receive. What happened that day, though, showed Dr. Murray that the training works. “Being as close to the point of injury as possible saved lives,” he says.
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Dr. Murray stresses that lives were saved due to the efforts of many people working together – police, emergency medical services, the trauma team at UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Mercy where the injured were transported, and countless others.
Training and preparation play a major part in another one of Dr. Murray’s professional roles – as a physician in the emergency department at UPMC Mercy. He typically works three to four shifts a week there. “We’re a super busy Level 1 Trauma Center,” he says. Level 1 trauma centers are equipped to provide the highest levels of care to patients.
Each week, Dr. Murray’s team at the hospital conducts a tabletop exercise which allows them to talk through what they would do during a specific emergency scenario. And, around twice a year, they conduct mass casualty drills to measure their preparedness.
“At UPMC, there’s a really good collaboration between emergency medicine physicians and trauma surgeons,” Dr. Murray says. He’s also proud of the quality and breadth of training they offer to trainees – including pre-hospital emergency medicine in which a physician works in the field with ambulance personnel.
For the past several years, Dr. Murray has been involved with UPMC’s “Stop the Bleed” initiative. “Stop the Bleed” is a national campaign to educate the public on bleeding control techniques that have been shown to save lives.
He is more committed than ever before to providing “Stop the Bleed” education to police and other members of his community. “We go out to every single law enforcement agency that we can find,” he says.
Dr. Murray’s life as an emergency physician keeps him busy and focused. Another aspect of his specialty that he appreciates, though, is that it allows for good work-life balance. He enjoys a variety of hobbies including jujitsu but, most of all, he loves spending time with family and his two young children.
Family is the top priority for Dr. Murray and his wife. “At the end of the day, we always sit down together at the dinner table,” he says.