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In 2011, Dr. Bruce Murphy had a choice: continue practicing medicine or be the CEO of Arkansas Heart Hospital in Little Rock.
To comply with new federal laws regarding hospital ownership by doctors, Murphy couldn’t do both. So he chose to be the CEO, abruptly ending a nearly 30-year career as a respected cardiologist.
“There was really no turning back,” the El Dorado native said. “I instantly had to begin learning another job.”
Murphy had been the medical director of the hospital that he and seven physicians, along with Medcath Corp. of Charlotte, North Carolina, opened in 1997. Medcath exited the ownership picture in 2011, and Murphy led a group of investors to buy Medcath’s share to ensure the hospital would remain locally owned.
Under Murphy’s leadership, the specialty hospital hasn’t missed a beat. It opened the $55 million Encore Medical Center in Bryant in 2021. With about 1,400 employees, Arkansas Heart Hospital has grown to about 30 clinics, including one in Texarkana, Texas, which opened in 2022.
Murphy said more clinics are planned in and outside of Arkansas.
Arkansas Heart Hospital saw a more than 20% increase in revenue in 2022, but it also watched its expenses rise by more than 20%.
Growing up, Murphy wanted to be a fireman or a pilot, and he spent three years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. But then, he said, he realized that “the exciting part of life was helping people and saving lives.”
After earning a doctorate in biochemical pharmacology in 1980 and his medical degree in 1981 from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Murphy began his cardiology practice in 1986, which he called the “golden age of interventional cardiology.” The specialty has evolved from basically watching heart disease take lives to stopping it before it does.
“I think I was placed in this position in order to fulfill a responsibility to help people,” he said.
Murphy, 70, said he doesn’t have any imminent plans to retire.
“I’m having a lot of fun doing what I’m doing,” he said. “And it’s a very fulfilling thing to be helping people.”