Physician, talk-show host, gardener — Susan Murrmann does it all

By Barbara Bradley

Dr. Susan Murrmann has people here scratching their heads.

She seems to be involved with everything from local movie promotion to Humane Society efforts to health charity work in addition to being one of the city’s best-known obstetricians and gynecologists, a frequent lecturer and a local ground-breaker in the field of women’s health.

In April she popped up inexplicably on radio interviewing guests and telling jokes as co-host of the “The Morning View” on WKIM-FM (98.9) from 6-9 a.m. weekdays. She explained with typical humor that broadcast executives “thought I talked a lot — she won’t shut up — she may be good on radio.”

On a routine day, she leaves her radio gig to perform laparoscopic surgery or maybe deliver a baby.

“I don’t do anything I don’t really believe in,” she said. “When you have a passion for something, it doesn’t seem like a lot of work.” She called the radio show “the most fun I’ve had,” because she gets to sound off on medical topics and women’s issues.

Murrmann, 47, is a past president of the Memphis American Heart Association and is now vice chairwoman of the Methodist Healthcare Foundation. A devotee of indie films, she is on the executive board of the Memphis and Shelby County Film and Television Commission and was a medical consultant for “21 Grams,” which was partly filmed here.

She is now spearheading Dog Daze of Memphis, the biggest fundraising campaign ever for the Humane Society Of Memphis & Shelby County. The project centers on 79 fiberglass forms of Buddy, a rescued dog, which have been decorated by Memphis artists and will be auctioned in November at a gala at The Peabody.

She is often photographed in stylish clothes at local galas, and did we mention she loves to cook and grows her own vegetables?

In April, the ’60s-era ranch-style home in River Oaks that she renovated with her husband, Dr. Roger Price, was featured in an eight-page spread in Memphis magazine. It is marked by serene, modern decor and contemporary art, collected here and from her travels.

She does have weaknesses. One is infatuation with Elvis Presley. She attends Elvis impersonator contests and candlelight vigils.

Murrmann is an expert in minimally invasive gynecological surgery and an instructor at the University of Tennessee department of obstetrics and gynecology, where she teaches laparoscopic surgery.

In 1996 she and Dr. Mary McDonald founded McDonald Murrmann Women’s Clinic, Inc., PLC, an obstetrics and gynecology group at 6215 Humphreys Blvd. and at 7705 Poplar. The clinic, which has 40 employees, is listed by the Memphis Business Journal as tied with three other companies as the 17th largest women-owned business in the Memphis metropolitan statistical area, which includes eight counties.

Five years ago, Murrmann and registered nurse Sarah Carpenter led the creation of the McDonald Murrmann Center for Skin, Laser and Healthy Aging, which offers cosmetic procedures. They own it along with other medical professionals, including McDonald.

Last year they moved the center into the Racquet Club of Memphis, creating a unique Memphis center which offers medical procedures, spa treatments and hair salon services in a fitness environment.

The center is a fulfillment of Murrmann’s holistic view of her practice: that fixing women on the inside with surgery is not enough. How a patient feels about herself on the outside, her appearance, her lifestyle are an important for of her total well-being.

“One little thing can make a big difference in someone’s life,” she said, even if it’s as simple as removing a frown with Botox.

Murrmann “has been a real inspiration to women physicians,” said Dr. Owen Phillips, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. “She and her colleague (McDonald) were very brave early in their careers to break out of a big practice in Memphis without hard feelings and form one of the first women’s-only practices,” she said. “She’s dedicated to the type of medicine she wanted to practice.”

Murrmann has also developed unique surgical skills, said Phillips. “Residents will go see her and train with her and she offers them skills they may not get otherwise.”

Murrmann has been carving her own path since she was a kid in Danville, Ill., where she was the town’s first paper girl and agitated to get into the boys’ Little League Baseball. “I put up a big stink,” she said. She wrote letters to the editor, and went door to door with a petition, but to no avail. It did open to girls later.

She graduated from medical school at the Chicago Medical School University of the Health Sciences and moved here from Chicago in 1989. Back then, Memphis looked stagnant to her, with a decayed downtown and limited cultural life.

Eventually she linked up with movers and shakers here, went through the Leadership Memphis program, and worked to push the city forward. “I don’t like people who complain about it and don’t do anything about it,” she said.

Humane Society board member Carol LaRocca calls her “tireless in her work for different charities. I don’t know when she sleeps. … She has fantastic ideas. She is very, very creative.”

She is not always easy to work with. She calls herself a perfectionist and control freak. “I can delegate, but it’s hard to let go of things,” she said. “I want to make sure things are done right. If I put 100 percent into it I expect others to, too.”

“She doesn’t make a lot of allowances for mistakes or people that don’t follow through,” agreed her friend and decorator Ami Austin. “When she does something, she wants to be associated with the best of the best.”

Murrmann always dated, but it was hard to find a man not threatened by her career. Some just didn’t know what to make of her. “One guy wanted to turn me into his mother,” she said. “He tried to put me in St. John suits and hot rollers.”

Eventually she met Price, a doctor of pharmacy and a regional manager for Kmart pharmacies, and they wed in 2002 when Murrmann was 42. It was her first marriage and his second. He has two children now 18 and 20. Price is very supportive of her career, she said. He’s also “funny, intelligent and we like the same things in life.”

Now, for her typical 13-hour work day, she rises at 4 a.m., does 20 minutes on an elliptical machine or with weights, drives to the radio station to plan the show, goes on air at 6 a.m. and by 9:30 a.m. is doing surgery or seeing patients. On Fridays she usually does liposuctions for Skin and Laser Center patients. Baby delivery doesn’t have a schedule. “They tend to come in the middle of the night,” she said.

At home, she tends a garden where she grows 12 varieties of tomatoes. Gardening and cooking are relaxing to her. “I do a lot of thinking while I’m cooking and jot down ideas,” she said. In the evening she may watch an indie film or have a charity work meeting.

She has not stopped expanding her universe. She’s got a handful of screenplays or documentaries in her head that she’d like to get on paper. One is about her Polish-born mother who was imprisoned by Russians during World War II and escaped from a Siberian work camp. Years ago, someone wrote a manuscript about her mom, now deceased, which was never published. Now she knows the source of much of her character.

Her mother, “was creative, very funny and outgoing,” she said. She was also a survivor and a rebel.

Reading the manuscript, “I saw myself every step of the way,” she said. “I am my mother’s daughter.”

Contact Barbara Bradley at 529-2370.

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