Lived experience brings a unique approach to education

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Lived experience brings a unique approach to education

Bridget S. Murphy, DBH, MEd, was 12 years old when he started stealing cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Next, he switched to marijuana and fast. At 15, Murphy ended up in rehab.

This is not the kind of personal information students expect to hear from a professor on the first day of class or read a university biography. It’s not easy​​​​to put such personal details out there for anyone to see, says Murphy, but it has to be done.

“I really started making some conscious decisions about being true to who I am and recognizing all the beauty in that, as well as healing, and how I can use my experiences for good,” Murphy said. , director of workforce education and research for the University of Arizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center. “Hopefully, I give people hope that these things can happen, and they don’t know you – you can still make great contributions to the world or to science or to academia or to your community.”

Share a personal case study

An only child, Murphy moved across the country from a small town in Michigan to northwest Tucson when he was 12. Under normal circumstances, middle school would have been difficult. For a depressed new kid trying to fit in, it hurts. To make matters worse, his mother and stepfather were headed for divorce.

Murphy hopes that her educational and research activities will help heal others who are dealing with substance use disorders in their lives or in family or friends.

Murphy tried to find her place playing volleyball and soccer. Instead, he is involved with risk takers. Cigarettes and alcohol led to marijuana and fast. He and his friends experimented with psychedelics and cocaine, sometimes using drugs before student council meetings.

His mom, who works at a rehabilitation and treatment center, caught him drunk and hiding outside the house in the middle of the night. Then, he ran away from home.

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The director of the facility where his mother worked offered to enroll Murphy. Far from a willing participant, he repeatedly begged to go home. When that didn’t work, he took matters into his own hands.

During a regular morning run five months into his 18-month stay, Murphy and another teenager went into the desert. It was a hot May morning when they wandered for nearly an hour before they ended up at a convenience store. Partying with his old friends was a payphone call away, and Murphy scored five days of freedom before he was caught. His arrest, however, paved the way for recovery.

“When we talk about the cycle of addiction or substance use disorders, it’s part of the process,” he said. “And actually, that’s probably been good for me in terms of my growth. I almost had to have that experience to really see that change is necessary and possible.

Rise from darkness

Slowly but surely, Murphy bought into the program. He credits his stint in treatment for turning his academic career around — the former underachieving student earned his GED and excelled in college and graduate school. It also gave her the tools she needed when, as an adult with a thriving professional career, she fell back into old habits of alcohol abuse with her ex-husband.

“It’s a double life and completely inconsistent with what my day-to-day work life is or the values ​​I communicate to others,” he said. “This inconsistency is eating me up.”

The marriage ends and unfiltered faithfulness begins.

“I think the bravest thing I’ve done, and the thing I’m most proud of, is to heal myself and work toward that in the relationships I have,” she said.

That means being open about the past.

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“There’s a lot of stigma that exists and that’s another reason why I put it out there, to help address that stigma,” she said. “It’s a hidden, secret, shameful situation and it’s unnecessary.”

Finding his teaching purpose

More than five people a day die from an opioid overdose in Arizona, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Nationally, drug overdose deaths are at an all-time high. More than 104,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in the 12 months ending in September 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Murphy said being kind and providing support and safe spaces for others is her main goal.

Murphy, an assistant research professor of health promotion sciences at the UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the Arizona Center for Rural Health, works to find solutions to the opioid addiction and epidemic in various private and nonprofit organizations, but he likes. academia is the most.

When Murphy began teaching the undergraduate course “HPS 306, Drugs and Society” four years ago, it was already a well-established general education health course. Murphy revised the curriculum, revised the text, assignments and objectives to focus on substance use disorder as a public health concern. She wants to tackle stigma as well as the full continuum of care – prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery.

“Ultimately, the goal is to provide students with a learning experience that examines the public health relevance of substance use, misuse and addiction using science, research, interactive tasks and lived experience. ,” said Murphy, who is the faculty leader for substance and addiction. use certificate and minor programs developed by the Zuckerman College of Public Health with the support of the Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center. “My personal teaching goal is that at least one student each semester will be motivated to learn more and pursue a career in substance use prevention, harm reduction, treatment or recovery.”

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Todd Vanderah, PhDfounding director of the Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center, praised Murphy’s positive attitude and how he strives to help others.

“Bridget is a hardworking and thoughtful colleague who connects with other faculty, staff and students,” said Vanderah, Regents Professor and head of the Department of Pharmacology at UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson. “His lived experience brought great insight into our needs for the center while bringing perspective to issues we had not considered.”

“HPS 306, Drugs and Society” was already a well-established general education health course when Bridget S. Murphy, DBH, MEd took it more than four years ago, but her approach focused of substance use disorder as a public health concern.

Murphy publishes a blog, Substance U in Public Health, as a way for students to keep up-to-date and stay connected after class.

A self-described shy introvert, Murphy willingly shares her story with students to tackle the stigma of substance abuse disorder head-on. In response, students often tell him about their personal experiences or those of family or friends.

“I feel so honored that they feel safe to share with me, that my experience has the potential to help other people, and that the topics we discuss are planting seeds of healing and hope,” she said. .

His thoughtful approach resonates with his students; this past spring, they nominated him for the WA Franke Honors College’s Margaret M. Briehl and Dennis T. Ray Five Star Faculty Award that recognizes excellence in teaching and learning.

Murphy is proud of his work, but it is not his main goal in life.

“I think what I want to be known for is kindness,” he said. “I want to create spaces for people to be who they are, wherever they are, in whatever form they want, and to be kind and helpful to others as well as being kind to myself.”