Ep. 117: Courage, Service, & Resilience

with Joyce Murphy
Episode hosted by: Sandi Fenwick

June 28, 2023


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Joyce Murphy
Board of Directors, Point32Health

Joyce Murphy brings a wealth of health care experience and a deep understanding of the New England health care landscape to our board. She retired from Commonwealth Medicine and the UMass Medical School in 2018, after a dozen years focused on developing solutions to the most challenging health care policy and public health populations. From 1991 through 2005, she held various positions at Caritas Christi Health Care System, including president of Caritas Carney Hospital, president of St. Mary’s Women and Children’s Center, and vice president of St. Margaret’s Hospital for Women. She was a 2019 Advanced Leadership Fellow at Harvard Business School and has been repeatedly honored as an outstanding leader. Joyce joined the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care board of directors in 2009, serving as chair from 2017 to 2020. She serves on several other boards and commissions, including the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission Advisory Council and the state treasurer’s Advisory Committee on Wage Equality, and is on the boards of the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, Curry College, and UHealthSolutions.


One thing that we all understand is love. And the one thing that we all feel equally as pain. And if we have that with the right tools, we can truly make a difference for everyone.



Sandra Fenwick: I’m Sandy Fenwick, CEO, emeritus of Boston Children’s Hospital, and I currently serve on a number of public and private boards these days. I’m here today with Joyce Murphy, a longtime friend and very important person in a healthcare medicine in the commonwealth of Massachusetts and beyond. Welcome, Joyce.

Joyce Murphy: Thank you. Hello, Sandy.

Sandra Fenwick: We’re so thrilled to hear your journey through healthcare. Joyce, you currently serve on a number of company and nonprofit boards. Most recently you have chaired the newly formed and newly merged Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Health, Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare plans and you have obviously been having a, an incredible journey through that, which we love to hear about. But for decades you have led academic and community hospital organizations. You’ve been in government and you’ve actually started in the state’s prison system. I think that goes with without saying that not everyone who is in healthcare actually began there. Your most recent responsibility before you stepped away was as Executive Vice Chancellor and CEO of Commonwealth Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Joyce, what a trip. What a wonderful journey. We’d love to hear how you got from where you started to where you are now.

Joyce Murphy: Okay just a brief background story. So I was born and raised right outside of Boston, in, in Brookline, mass in a small town. Born into a family with seven kids, family of nine in total. Always, my family was very committed to service and to helping others. The center of the family, actually, I had a brother who was diagnosed at two and a half with a very severe and fatal illness. He unfortunately he was able to make some progress for a very short period of time, and then the doctors had told us, though we didn’t believe it because he was such a beautiful baby, that he would decline and ultimately be unable to do most anything. And sure enough, he peaked at about the age of seven and then started to decline and lived with us the whole time. And died at home, bedridden, still in diapers, tube fed. So a really sad story for what could have been a wonderful life a lot of suffering and difficulty for him, but he was really the center of our family. And I think that from the start it was really clear that, those of us. To whom much was given had much responsibility to give back. And so I was always very interested in service. I thought I would love to volunteer with children. My brother Brian was served at your hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, had a wonderful doctor Alan Crocker, who we all owe so much debt to. And so I thought I would volunteer there. I was like in high school or first year of college, and I went there to meet with Dr. Crocker, and I just burst into tears. I just, I saw my brother and so many of these kids and I just couldn’t do it. So I thought this is not gonna work, but let me do something else. And ultimately, when I was in college I volunteered in the Mission Hill projects with children who were having difficulty learning how to read. These were seven year old kids starting second grade. Who were already falling behind. And so off. I went to the project school and I was assigned this beautiful little boy Derek who really had so much potential. His clothes were dirty. He hadn’t really eaten. He had a key around his neck and the windows are open. It was a beautiful day, you could hear sirens and screaming outside the windows cuz the school sat right in the projects there. And I was so overwhelmed. I’m thinking, how am I going to teach this child to read? He has so many big concerns about where he is going to eat, who’s gonna help him out. I mean nobody to help him to focus on his schoolwork and whatnot at home. So it taught me a lot, but I thought, geez, maybe I would think about the family court system. I switched my major to law enforcement in my sophomore year of college as a result, this experience and also volunteering in the court system and And off I went to the courts to be a voluntary probation officer as I was finishing my college degree, of course. And then from there I went directly into residential treatment with emotionally disturbed adolescent girls. So I had 15 girls from three in the afternoon till midnight. Right after they came up from school. And anybody who’s raised a daughter, a teenager knows it can be a challenge for the healthiest of girls. And here I had 15 girls and it was just me, the only staff member with girls who had been sexually abused, neglected, traumatized, just really tragic stories. And my job was to be with them all afternoon, help make dinner. We ate dinner right in the unit. And and get them all settled at bedtime. And of course, as I’m sure knowing, working with kids who have been abused, neglected bedtime is a very tough time. We often ended at the emergency room and From there. I think that was probably the toughest job. It was a good start because it was probably the toughest job I had in my whole career. And then I went on to work in the adult prison system, starting as a case manager and then moving through the ranks. And in, actually in six years, I had worked at a few different prisons and then been named superintendent of the Women’s State prison at Mass Correctional Institution at Framingham. So I was there for a number of years and then I actually won the Bradford Fellowship for outstanding contributions to public service and finished my master’s at the Kennedy School at Harvard. And transitioned to the Department of Revenue, which was very different. But I thought, I had worked in prisons for a long time and people have stereotypes of folks who work in prisons, and I thought, If I wanted to do something else, it would be good to do that before, maybe there weren’t a lot of options. So I was able to transition child support enforcement from the Department of Public Welfare to the Department of Revenue. We were an enforcement agency, so it made great sense. Social workers, don’t, aren’t trained in collecting money and backed child support. So we were able to increase collections dramatically, which was really a great achievement. But I missed working in a health and human service delivery system after a while and had an opportunity when carry the care test. Christie Healthcare system had made a very difficult decision to close St. Margaret’s hospital for women in Dorchester. And they, I’m trying to think, it was 1991 that they had done a nationwide search to look for vice president for the hospital, knowing the hospital was closing in a year and a half. And so the VP’s job was to see if he or she, it became me. She create a. Vision, a business plan and financial feasibility to continue services for at-risk women and children in Dorchester. So I was intrigued by the opportunity having worked with men and women in prison and their children and seeing how difficult it is for kids as well as offenders. The climb back from prison is tougher than if you never get to prison. So I thought, if I could really create something that would intervene in the lives of women and children earlier, That would really make a difference. And I was also the entrepreneurial potential of redeveloping that complex. It was a century. It had been in that complex, in that neighborhood, a hundred years largest employer, largest landowner. It was the most ethnically and racially diverse section of the city of Boston. 40%, 40 plus percent of the folks were living at the poverty level. And for them, if that entire complex went down, it would’ve been devastating for that neighborhood. So I thought, geez, if I could redevelop this and also build something that would be a contributor and serve people in the neighborhood, that would be really exciting. So off I went and found the day the hospital closed. I founded the St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children. In fact, we had our 30th year anniversary last night. We had our fundraiser at Marina Bay and sold out Crowd. Great event. And so we’re going strong 30 years later. We serve about five or 600 families every year. And then from there this, my system that I was working in, the Catholic Healthcare system was negotiating with the daughters of charities. No, unbeknownst to me about buying the Kearney hospital, and I got a call from my boss at 6:00 AM one morning saying, Joyce, can you stop in Brighton at the headquarters on your way to Dorchester? I said, of course. So I get over there and I’m told that they’re in very confidential negotiations about acquiring the Kearney Hospital, and they were afraid that the media was gonna get ahold of it and wanted to announce ahead of the transition team. When that happened. So they asked me to be with the head of the transition team for the due diligence 90 days. And you can stand on your head for 90 days Sandy? You know that. And so I said, okay, I can drive up and down Dorchester a from, one end of Dorchester to the other. And off I went. And six weeks later I’m at a board meeting in the corporate office. And when all the staff were asked to step out the board went into executive session. They had asked if I could stick around, which I did. And they came out and said, we just voted for you to be the CEO at Kearney Hospital. And I said, my first reaction was, I’m not sure I’m the right person for this. I wasn’t born and raised in hospitals. I know I’m in a lab if I see the test tubes and the vials. But other than that, and they said, no, we don’t. We need everybody in the hospital. We have all kinds of clinical people in the hospital. We need a leader. And the president and the vice president of the medical staff, the leadership, have been over here to see us and they want you as their CEO. So ultimately I said yes. And I went there and served as CEO for just shy of 10 years, about nine years before being recruited to UMass Medical School to run Commonwealth Medicine. And then off I went to Worcester.

Sandra Fenwick: What a journey, and the impact that you have had in this Commonwealth Commonwealth Medicine in. In Worcester, which is in the center of the of the state is really a gem for the whole community. And and then you were there for a number of years and maybe you know, Joyce you. You as a woman, you as a non-physician in healthcare like me obviously had incredible opportunities and credible challenges. Maybe talk a little bit about, what it was like being a woman because this program really is not only for women, but there’s also a lot of men. What have you learned? What has been really helpful? What has been really hard? I’d love to hear that.

Joyce Murphy: No question. I think that, in leadership particularly it’s always been principally men. But I will tell you, Sandy, that having worked in a paramilitary organization, having worked in the prison system, taught me so much and really. In terms of going forward, I think it’s been really interesting when when I was. Starting at the Kearney Hospital, when my appointment was announced, the front page of the Boston Globe said, the soon to be new president of Kearney Hospital has tangled with tougher crowds than doctors in revolt. And it went on to say, the former prison warden. And same thing when I went to the Department of Revenue, the commissioner said to me, The good news is we’ve made great progress in trying to reach out and make things easier for taxpayer payers and increasing voluntary compliance. He said, the problem is we’re tied together with blue and scotch tape, and if you’ve been running a prison, I know you can straighten this out. So it’s served me well because it’s such an unusual thing I think for that people aren’t exposed to. But I do think one of the things That I, I think things are changing, which is a wonderful thing, but I do think it’s harder, it had traditionally been harder for women that you have to be not just as good but better. And that frequently that women are overlooked because And historically, there have been principally white men in charge and looking at other men like them on their boards and in the leadership positions as they look for successors. So that’s clearly an issue. The other thing I think is women being taken seriously, but as I, at the board table and whatnot in meetings, And I would always say, I can remember sometimes when you just wanted to knock off board table, but it’s I remember one time someone had I had suggest, this was actually when I was running one of the, not the women’s prison, but the maximum security, special management building for male felons in the state before I became superintendent. And we’re in a room and we had an incident and there were like 15 of us, and commanding officers all the way up the, and in prison you’re always addressed by your title, sergeant, lieutenant, superintendent, whatever. And I had suggested something that we should learn from this and what we should be doing going forward, and nobody really responded. And then just a minute or two later, The lieutenant five or six down for me repeated almost exactly what I said, and everybody was like, oh, what a great idea, Lieutenant. And so I did say Lieutenant, I said, you obviously have stated that much better than I did, but thank you very much for repeating my idea and what I think we should be doing going forward, because I do think it’s easy for you to get mad and take your ball and go home, but you need to be at the table. So you need to bite your tongue, take a deep breath, and figure out the strategies on what’s gonna work best.

Sandra Fenwick: Joy. That’s a perfect way of responding because I think a lot of people have said that happened to me all the time, and it still does. Frankly, it happens to be in a boardroom both last week. And you know what I’ve, what someone said once is that it’s really nice when someone that’s either another woman or a man repeats what you said and gives you credit. But it’s even more powerful when you have the courage really to speak up and repeat what you said and say in a very nice way, this is what I really was. Saying and you just didn’t recognize it.

Joyce Murphy: Yeah, you did a better job. So you give him credit, but you’re also making it clear, right?

Sandra Fenwick: yeah, that was really a pearl. Thank you. What are some of the other challenging situations that you’ve been in, and what do you think was the greatest asset that you brought to, either the resolution or the or how you handled them?

Joyce Murphy: I think professionally that I was really not afraid of failing at a position. I figured, I wasn’t, I was obviously intimidated by the opportunity to go from the president of the St. Mary’s Center to the CEO at Kearney Hospital, but the fact that. The medical leadership was so supportive and insisting that I should be their CEO obviously gave me some confidence cuz I had been working with them as the face of Caritas Christi for the six week six weeks of the three months due diligence at that point. But I’d say having the courage to stand up for your convictions and not being afraid to be wrong cuz we all make mistakes and to learn from that. And also not being afraid to take risks to try something that you’re not sure that you’re gonna succeed at. The worst thing that happens is, it doesn’t work out. You pick yourself up by, by your bootstraps and move on. I think the biggest issue, and particularly for women, is not taking risks and not trying different things and staying in a job because it’s safe, because it’s comfortable because of the fear of trying something new. And they always say you regret the things you don’t do versus the things that you do. So I’m a big believer in that.

Sandra Fenwick: Totally agree, Joyce and I, I think the theme of taking risk, having the courage to try, having the resilience, that when you maybe don’t do it as perfectly as even you want it to, not always, it’s not always the judgment about you, but it’s about

Joyce Murphy: right, exactly. Yeah. Yeah.

Sandra Fenwick: Joyce, as the chair of the board, we talk a lot about, your your executive leadership roles in, in healthcare, but as chair of the board of a very complicated and now newly merged or organization, what are some of the what’s not only the skill sets that you bring, but some of the approaches and techniques that you found to be the most effective?

Joyce Murphy: Yeah, I think one of the most important things is ensuring that everybody on the board has a voice. I know we’ve all been on boards where certain people dominate and other people are afraid to speak up or whatever. And I think as the board chair, it is my duty to ensure that we hear from every member of the board and a good little. Something that I’ve inserted several times is, great. We’ve heard that. Does anybody who hasn’t had the opportunity to speak to add something so that we bring it without offending anybody? We bring in those folks who are. Raising their hands when other people might be kinda, just jumping in. And I think the other thing, in addition to listening and ensuring everybody has a voice, is setting the standards of what’s appropriate behavior at a board meeting. And for a board generally that, we can disagree and disagreement is a good thing and hopefully we listen, we get stronger, we get to the right place, but we cannot be disagreeable or disrespectful. And, what we have to say will be set in the boardroom and not side conversations in the corridor. Those kinds of things in terms of setting the culture of the board, expectations of individuals as well as the board in general, I think are really important. And to do that upfront and remind, remind people before you get into a situation that’s really difficult or dangerous. And then addressing, if there are individuals who seem to be more domineering, I’ll always take them privately aside and speak with them individually.

Sandra Fenwick: Joyce, it sounds so familiar to all of the leadership roles we’ve had. I. As CEOs, as even vice presidents when we had teams is setting that, setting the cultural expectations, setting the organizational standards and values is really what you’re talking about.

Joyce Murphy: Yes. Yep.

Sandra Fenwick: it’s really something that I think no matter what level we are at in our organizations or wherever we are, whether it’s a member of a board or a member of a team in an organization. Or the leader of the team, or leader of the board that is really so fundamental. I hear you say

Joyce Murphy: I agree. Yeah. Yeah.

Sandra Fenwick: Joyce as you think about your road I call it a journey. I call it a road. Each phase each stop along the way, each juncture What would you say as you think about the way you would think about words of wisdom or just things that you would share with with people listening how do you think about the advice you’d give either to your younger self or to people who are, on that road?

Joyce Murphy: Yeah, I guess don’t be afraid of failing at something. We all have our ups and downs and don’t. Don’t refuse to try something because you’re afraid of failing because you always recover and you can always pick yourself up and move forward. I am. I know it sounds a little trite and a lot of people say about following your passion, but I do believe in that. I know we all have to do jobs and take jobs maybe early on that. Would really rather not just to make our rent payments or whatnot. And so I certainly respect and appreciate that, but I do think in your career you get to a point where we spend so much time at work and we really spend so much time and energy that you really wanna love what you do. And it shows if you love what you do versus if you don’t love what you do and you’re miserable. And then it’s showing at home as well. So I’d say, try to find something you love and and you’ll do it well. And you’ll love going to work. You won’t wake up every day saying, oh my God, I have to go back there. So I would suggest that people consider that.

Sandra Fenwick: Thank you. I think that you have reinforced for me how important that has been, in my own journey. And obviously you have you have done so. Incredibly well with that as one of the themes that you have used in learning and and reflecting back in, in your journey. Any last words of wisdom or any other thing you would like to impart?

Joyce Murphy: I don’t think so. I guess the only other thing I’d say is that when one retires from a full-time position, I do think it’s important to stay engaged, to stay active with things that you love to do. Maybe hobbies, but also professional. Professional opportunities as well. And whether it’s boards or corporate boards, or whether it’s also volunteer boards. And as I say, we had our fundraiser last night and we do a fashion show on Marina Bay, on the boardwalk every year, sold out crowd. And of course, the designer, Denise Jar, called me and asked me if I would be a model. And I said, Denise, are we turning this into a geriatric fashion show? And she said no, because we always have these gorgeous professional models, young women. And kids. And I said, but we love the young women and the kids. She said we’ll still have those. She said, but many of the women who support the center and who come every year have said that they would like women of a certain age and women at different levels. So I didn’t, and I’m telling you, I was more intimidated by that, I think by thinking about walking the runway. I know nothing about that with all of these professional models than many of my positions that I’ve held throughout my career. But I said, it’s a good cause it’s for the women and children at the center and I’ll do it. So there I off, I went.

Sandra Fenwick: Joyce, you just reiterated the courage to take risk.

Joyce Murphy: that I tell you, somebody, somebody wrote, sent me a note this morning and said, boy, you really rocked the runway. And it’s I don’t think so, but at least I get the good sport award for having the courage to, to walk with all those beautiful models,

Sandra Fenwick: oh,

Joyce Murphy: But it was fun. It was fun.

Sandra Fenwick: That is so

Joyce Murphy: didn’t fall down. That was my, it was my biggest fear. So it was good, worked out, and it’s a good thing for the center. We raised money and raised friends, so it was great.

Sandra Fenwick: Joyce, before we, we leave you, you talked about retirement and, continuing to give back and renewal. You also went back to Harvard Business School and did their fellowship in leadership. Just one short. Comment about that because I think that is another way of just saying you never stop learning.

Joyce Murphy: I mean for me, I had been at UMass Medical School actually for 13 years, and it was really time. I had been speaking with the chancellor about time for me to move on succession planning, and he just ignored me, kept saying if you just stop talking about this and stay, it’s no, it’s good for an organization, have turnover. It’s good for an individual and nobody is all things to. All organizations and somebody comes in with a fresh set of eyes and ideas and brings the organization to the next level. So I had been interested in the Advanced Leadership fellows program and had been approached by them to see if I would like to be considered, but I was not in a position to think about it. But as I was ready to leave the medical school I didn’t, I certainly didn’t wanna retire. I wanted to transition and do something different. This was a spectacular opportunity for me. I’m telling you. And I have recommended a couple of other people who are thinking about transitions. I went to graduate school at Harvard and I loved it. You meet people from all over the world, the faculty, the students, Cambridge, Harvard Square, just a great place to be. And so when I went back to be an advanced leadership fellow, obviously different, it’s a full year program but it’s. All about people who are transitioning, many people retiring or transitioning in their careers, who wanna give back and who wanna learn. Many people who financially did exceedingly well and now want to seed nonprofits or help nonprofits or, climate change or, food, global, food security, insecurity, that kind of thing. So people from all over the world and fabulous. I had a cohort of about, I think there were about 50 of us total across the entire advanced leadership program. But it was really great very stimulating. There’s always something going on. You could be there every day and every night. You can take classes if you’d like. And then there are also things that you’re required to participate and present and whatnot as part of the Leadership Fellows program. But it’s a wonderful way for somebody who wants to transition out of, a CEO job and not be 24 7 running the show to having a group of peers who are just amazing.

Sandra Fenwick: Wonderful. Joyce, thank you so much. This has been Absolutely I’m so glad we were able to do this. So thank you so much for this.

Joyce Murphy: my pleasure, Sandy. Great to see you. Thank you so much.

Sandra Fenwick: You bet. Thank you. I.

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