Primary care doctor served in Iraq before treating local patients

Mattituck Primary Care on Main Road held its grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, even though it actually opened in March.

The practice wanted to wait for Dr. Kerry Murphy to return from Iraq, where she’d been deployed with the 106th Rescue Wing out of Westhampton Beach just as the practice officially opened.

She received a phone call March 15 with the devastating news that four fellow rescue wing members, including Tech. Sgt. Dashan Briggs of Riverhead, had been killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq. The caskets of her fallen brethren arrived March 27. Just three hours later, Dr. Murphy was deployed.

She has served as a flight surgeon in the New York Air National Guard for 17 years, where her main responsibilities include combat search and rescue, supporting missions and acting as a doctor to soldiers in the field.

“I’m glad I went [to Iraq],” Dr. Murphy said. “It was a good time to be with them.”

Her deployment lasted until June 11. Although she was away from Mattituck Primary Care during this time, she set up something much like a primary care center overseas. She was responsible for treating those with injuries and those who were sick.

“I had a beautiful, big huge tent, that was the cleanest place on the installation,” she said of her living situation in Iraq.

The title of flight surgeon can often be misleading, she explained. At the base in Westhampton Beach, she performs physicals for soldiers and is also required to fly with crews to learn about the stresses pilots experience. She is considered a “human system expert.”

Dr. Kerry Murphy. (Rachel Siford photo)

Her partner at Mattituck Primary Care, Dr. Katie Hough, stepped up to the plate and ran the practice in her absence.

After Dr. Murphy’s duties ended, she spent four days at a Deployment Transition Center in Germany, decompressing and learning tools to transition back into civilian life.

Eager to get home to her husband and three children, she was also able to attend the ribbon-cutting, signaling the start of the next chapter in her life.

“The ribbon-cutting was really nice,” Dr. Murphy said. “I’m happy they waited for me to come back.”

Dr. Murphy grew up in Nassau County and moved to East Moriches with her family while working for the Air National Guard full time in 2006.

“We’re proud to have within our wing a physician like Kerry Murphy, who has honorably served our nation for so many years and also selflessly cares for those in local communities,” said Lt. Col. Curt Green, Dr. Murphy’s squadron commander. “She is an example of duty and devotion at its best.”

Dr. Murphy was a nurse for eight years before earning her medical degree, and was always interested in joining the military. During her residency, her husband recommended she join.

“It was funny because I didn’t really understand what my job position was going to be when the recruiter said, ‘Do you want to be a flight surgeon?’ I said sure,” Dr. Murphy said.

“It turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made,” she added. “I really enjoy working with them.”

Before starting her Mattituck practice, which is affiliated with New York University-Winthrop Hospital, she saw patients at a few other practices in Riverhead and Southold.

“I always wanted to be on the North Fork, and the opportunity presented itself to work with NYU Winthrop, and they’ve got a great reputation,” she said. “I grew up right up the road from Winthrop Hospital, so it’s like coming full circle.”

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Photo caption: The ribbon cutting at the Mattituck Primary Care grand opening.