An internist with many interests

Jock Murray, MD, MACP, is like an 18th-century physician, not in the sense that he prescribes bloodletting or mercury, but in the wide range of his knowledge and interests.


Jock Murray, MD, MACP, is like an 18th-century physician, not in the sense that he prescribes bloodletting or mercury, but in the wide range of his knowledge and interests.

“An educated person in the 18th century often knew something about everything, unlike our very specialized areas of knowledge now,” said Dr. Murray. Early in his career, at a time when others might have thought practicing neurology, teaching, and raising 4 children was enough, Dr. Murray sought to follow that well-rounded model.

Dr Murray
Dr. Murray

“I made a list of all of those books that everybody knows about but haven't actually read and began to read over one summer,” he said. The literature survey led to an interest in English writer Samuel Johnson. After decades of writing about Mr. Johnson, including an article in The BMJ posthumously diagnosing him with Tourette's syndrome, Dr. Murray's sideline recently led to his appointment as the president of the Samuel Johnson Society.

The new position requires multiple trips to England from Dr. Murray's home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. But he has lengthy experience with traveling the world to deliver lectures, from comparisons of the U.S. and Canadian health care systems to explanations of the history of medicine through 100 great works of art (a past offering at ACP's Internal Medicine Meeting), among other topics.

“I lecture on Robert Pope, who was a young artist with cancer who did 96 paintings of his experience of being a patient with cancer. These are profound artworks that show you more about how a patient experiences illness than any textbook of medicine ever could,” said Dr. Murray. “I'm also interested in the history of medicine, so I'm currently working on an aspect of shellshock in World War I ... I'm giving a talk on the history of marijuana as treatment.”

Despite his personal affinity for lecturing, Dr. Murray was on the forefront of efforts to reduce the number of lectures in medical school education. From 1985 to 1992, as the dean of medicine at Dalhousie University, he led the school in completely revamping its curriculum from traditional didactic teaching to case-oriented, problem-stimulated learning.

“I think it was the first medical school to entirely change from a traditional method to a fully problem-based approach and do it in 1 day,” he said. “In the emergency room or sitting in your office, if you have a problem you need to deal with, you can't say, ‘Someone come give me a lecture.’”

Dr. Murray retired from practice 4 years ago, but he continues to work with medical students, serving as a director of a student research program as well as a professor emeritus at Dalhousie.

He and his wife, Janet, also volunteer in their community. “There was a program for the homeless, but what we noticed was that their diet was the same every day. They were given sandwiches and coffee,” said Dr. Murray. He and his family found a solution. “Once a month, we—my children, my grandchildren, and some friends—all organize a very large and elaborate salad bar.”

Literature, medicine, arts, social services—it might seem like Dr. Murray has every field covered except music. But no, he has an impressive experience to relate in that arena, too.

In 1965, he and his wife, who was a journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, took a week's vacation in the Bahamas and followed the local news. “Janet noticed that the Beatles were coming to Nassau to make the film ‘Help,’” said Dr. Murray. As a member of the press, she got them into an evening media event.

“We went into this hotel room with the Beatles and we sat around and drank wine and ate finger-food sandwiches,” said Dr. Murray. “They were charming and very pleasant and very witty. It was an extremely pleasant evening.”