Gretchen Murphy Leaves her Mark

Gretchen Murphy

Student Fund in her Honor Provides Lasting Support


Gretchen Murphy was a national leader in health information with a passion for pushing forward both the field and its future leaders. She retired more than two years ago as director of the Health Informatics and Health Information Management (HIHIM) program, but her legacy and impact live on.

“Nobody had a clearer understanding of where the field came from and where it was going than Murphy,” said Kathleen Nguyen (BS HIHIM ’11, MPI MHIHIM ’16), now director of clinical communications for Seattle Children’s hospital.

To honor Murphy upon her retirement in 2017, several colleagues set up the Gretchen C Murphy HIHIM Student Support Fund to provide lasting support to HIHIM students.

Murphy says she hopes the fund will not only provide the financial means for students to attend the program, but will also “validate students’ endeavors” and show them that “the people they want to work with are recognizing their background and their interests and their ambition.” The faculty wants students to become their colleagues, she says, and prioritize maintaining relationships with them.

That’s why it wasn’t surprising to anyone involved with the program that over 35 donors came together to support future undergraduate and graduate students and to reach the $25,000 endowment goal. Starting in January, the fund will provide about $1,000 worth of scholarships per year.

The Department of Health Services, where the HIHIM program is housed, ultimately hopes to double the endowment, which could cover costs such as the Registered Health Information Administrator certification or provide a financial cushion when unexpected events threaten the momentum of a student. The intimate nature of the program means the faculty know if a student stumbles on hard times.

In keeping with the tight-knit nature of the program, “Gretchen mentors health informatics and information management professionals to this day,” says Kathleen Peterson, who took over as director following Murphy’s retirement. “This fund serves as a tribute to her commitment for educating future leaders in health informatics.”

Pictured: Kathleen Nguyen, Gretchen Murphy, Kathleen Peterson
Pictured: Kathleen Nguyen, Gretchen Murphy, Kathleen Peterson

For her part, Murphy believes much of the success of the HIHIM program stems from its ability to attract students with diverse professional backgrounds and life experiences. Most students in the bachelor’s and master’s programs work full time, and may range in age from 20 to 50. The program attracts the analytically inclined looking for a way to break into the health care system but also the occasional nurse, physical therapist or dentist.

Surrounded by other skilled professionals, students can’t help but learn from each other, and they walk away with skills that persist well beyond the rapid evolution of the field. Murphy says the program’s team dynamics reflect the reality of HIHIM work, which must make complex and highly sensitive information accessible for researchers, doctors and patients.

“Patient records have the power to represent the patient’s story and their care experience,” says Murphy. HIHIM is about “the maintenance of high-quality data on these individual experiences and the guardianship of their confidentiality.” Without complete and accurate health information at the patient level, she says, patient trust in the health care system is broken and the research industry is compromised.

Mary Alice Hanken, a current lecturer in the program, brought the bachelor’s in HIHIM, then a certificate program, to the Department of Health Services from Seattle University in the early 1990s. Since its accreditation in 2004, 548 students have received a bachelor’s in HIHIM from the School of Public Health. Murphy helped develop the accredited master’s program in 2013 in response to the growing demand brought by new technologies such as the Electronic Health Record. 

The UW offers two other informatics-based programs, one in nursing and one in medicine, but Jeffrey Harris, the chair of health services, explains that the program offers a uniquely analytical approach that complements the more management and research focuses of the other two programs.

To make a gift, visit the Gretchen C. Murphy Health Informatics and Health Information Management (HIHIM) Student Support Fund page or contact:

Monet LaForge
Assistant Director for Advancement