Where in the world is Dr. Murthy?

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Srinivas Murthy, MDCM’06, at the University Club, during the Medicine Class of 2006 10th anniversary reunion dinner. (Photo: Nicolas Morin)

By Sophia Blankenhorn

As an infectious disease and critical care clinician, Srinivas Murthy, MDCM’06, is used to taking risks.

As a son, though, he tries to not worry his parents.

And so, when he traveled to Liberia in 2014 during the worst period of the Ebola outbreak, he chose not to mention it to them, only to have the truth come out in an unexpected way.

The road to Liberia

For Vancouver-based Murthy, it was an easy decision to join the World Health Organization (WHO) Ebola response management efforts. “I am an intensive care physician and do research on infectious disease, global health and emerging health. A lot of what I do is supported by WHO. When the Ebola crisis started, a colleague of mine there asked if I could come support their activities.”

Murthy admits, though, that the trip to Liberia was stressful. “From the socio-political perspective, there is still a lot of stigma attached to the area. The day-to-day life there is very different even when there isn’t an ongoing outbreak.”

It was, he shares, a challenging situation in which to provide and coordinate care, especially with so many different organizations on-site. In his field, there tends to be a group that converges in response to an outbreak, and although he already knew some of the people with whom he was working, he had to figure out how best to work with them—and quickly. “It was both fun and challenging to deal with different personalities, value sets and ideas— that is part of what being a leader is about.”  

There was also the question of media attention. Murthy had to manage the media frenzy surrounding his team’s work. “It was at times overwhelming, giving interviews on a nearly daily basis, but it is also important to get the right message out, to assuage fears by talking in a rational and reasonable way.”

It helped, he says, to have the support of his wife. A fellow physician, she understood his decision to go, as well as the risks involved.

Further difficulties awaited Murthy, however, upon his return home. “At that time there was anxiety about the possibility of returning people spreading Ebola. There was a lot of screening. As a precaution, I couldn’t go to work for a few weeks longer than expected,” he says, adding that the post-travel stigma may have discouraged health care workers from signing up to help stem the crisis.

A media oops

The high level of media interest in the WHO’s work in Liberia would have personal consequences for Murthy.

“I actually did not tell my parents I was going to Liberia,” he says, explaining that he did not want to worry them. “But while I was there I gave an interview for NPR, and my uncle, who lives in the US, heard it and gave my parents a call to say congratulations, but they did not know what he was talking about.” Thus ensued what Murthy describes as “a relatively panicked twelve hours of discovery,” with his wife fielding many questions.

Homecoming of another kind

Murthy returned to McGill in February 2015 to share his experiences in Liberia at a talk organized by McGill Students Fight Ebola.

He made the trip to Montreal again in fall 2016 for the Medicine Class of 2006’s 10th reunion.

And he will once again attend Homecoming this year, as the recipient of the Medicine Alumni Global Young Alumni Award, presented, since 2009, to an MDCM who, within 15 years of graduation, has made extraordinary contributions to McGill University, fellow alumni or society.

After Ebola

When it comes to the next Ebola, Murthy, who, also did a pediatric residency at Harvard Medical School and a four-year fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases and critical care at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, is optimistic: “The public health world is attuned to what worked and what didn’t work, therefore it is my hope that future outbreaks will be responded to aggressively and effectively.”

Besides, as he reminds our students, all McGill graduates can make a difference in the larger global community—whether they tell their parents or not.

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Comments

One Response to “Where in the world is Dr. Murthy?
  1. Monique Bourget says:

    Dear Srinivas Murthy, I was glad to be at the same ceremony for the awards and want to congratulate you for your work and heroism. We were going to do a mission in 2014 in Benin, but did not go because of the risk of Ebola in West Africa. May God continue giving you courage to truly make contribuitions to WOrld´s health.
    Sr. Monique Bourget MDCM `92

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