Some people dedicate themselves to a life of service. They choose careers and opportunities to provide services that improve and often save the lives of others. Dr. Gregory Umphrey, M.D., is one of those people. Between his medical career and ElevateMeD, a nonprofit organization he and his wife founded to help medical students, he has made life better for many.
With his wife, Dr. Alyx Porter Umphrey, M.D., Dr. Umphrey moves forward, incorporating the latest medical practices and advancements that benefit his patients. In addition, he gives back by supporting the ElevateMeD students.
Both doctors make giving back move forward by passing on this tradition of service within their family.
Moving Forward: Improving Patients’ Lives
Dr. Umphrey practices in Phoenix, Arizona, at Barrow Brain and Spine, an advanced neuroscience facility.
“I’m a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, also known as a Physiatrist (not to be confused with a psychiatrist!). Basically, I focus on musculoskeletal conservative care, which involves guided injection procedures, spine care, joint disorders, and nerve and muscle problems,” Dr. Umphrey said.
Physiatry, a relatively new branch of medicine, focuses on the brain, spinal cord, nervous system, bones and surrounding tissues. In a multidisciplinary approach, the goal of physiatry is to treat and heal the patient holistically. Treatment may touch on emotional, vocational and social factors.
“I see each patient as a puzzle, and when they come to my office, I try to piece that puzzle together to find a suitable solution on a non-operative basis. I like to treat each patient as a whole person,” Dr. Umphrey explained.
He creates from his array of techniques the best solution for each patient, such as physical therapy, injections for pain relief and other modalities to help maximize function.
“I assess the patient fully to see what their deficits are and see how we can solve that problem. For example, we might set up a supervised physical therapy program, a procedure, or some type of nerve block, joint or spinal injection. I also see patients with specific nerve problems that may be coming from the back or the neck, and evaluate for other abnormalities. For example, some patients may instead have symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome or other nerve entrapment problems that may need further diagnostics, such as nerve conduction studies and needle electromyography. From a therapeutic approach, I use ultrasound to guide my procedures so I can get the medicine to the correct target and avoid vital structures,” Dr. Umphrey said.
What if our bodies’ ability to heal minor wounds were expanded to much larger wounds and the effects of aging, defects and damage? Regenerative medicine focuses on restoring tissues and organs to full function by stimulating the body to heal itself on a larger scale.
“I’ve done some things in regenerative medicine, such as platelet-rich plasma, where we can inject growth factors into tendons or even treat the joints to help promote some types of healing and improvement in function. So regenerative medicine is a new frontier,” Dr. Umphrey stressed.
According to Dr. Umprey, platelet-rich plasma comes from the patient’s own blood. It’s put in a centrifuge and broken down into red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma proteins, and platelets. The platelet concentrate portion of this solution contains granules that contain various growth factors which help in the healing process. This platelet concentrate can be optimized during preparation to be injected into a tendon, a joint, or around nerves, to help start the healing process. Dr. Umphrey predicts a bright future for regenerative medicine.
“It’s going to continue to push forward and become something that’s going to be bigger and bigger. It’s being researched for healing spinal cord and brain injuries. We’ll be able to help more patients heal,” he said.
Giving Back: Improving Medical Students’ Lives
As his career grew, Dr. Umphrey and his wife, Dr. Alyx Porter Umphrey, M.D., realized that when they were in medical school, there was little support for minority medical students. So they decided to give back which led to founding ElevateMeD.
“In 2019, we founded a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Our goal is to help elevate medicine to an ideal where the physician workforce racially and ethnically represents the community it serves,” Dr. Umphrey said.
The Burden of Cost
One significant barrier to helping minority medical students is cost.
“We know that the high cost of medical education is prohibitive, distracting bright minority students from seeking a career in medicine. We also know that students from racial and ethnic backgrounds are traditionally underrepresented. Often they don’t even want to approach medicine because of that cost,” Dr. Umphrey acknowledged.
The Umphreys understand on a personal level the burden of massive debt from educational programs. Between them, they had to pay off a debt of about $500,000, which took them about eight years with careful planning and determination. Dr. Umphrey points out that so many students have to ask how they are going to pay for medical school while they are in there and after they are done. Many acknowledge that when you come out of residency, you don’t get paid a lot. And so, the loans build up financially along with interest.
“ElevateMeD provides financial assistance for bright, talented medical students from underrepresented groups—African-Americans, Latino and Native Americans. We also pair students with mentors for leadership training, financial management education and more to help them succeed as a physician,” Dr. Umphrey declared.
ElevateMeD works with 15 medical schools to attract applicants, and the organization’s board makes final selections. ElevateMeD has raised over $200,000 from it’s most recent fundraiser. Thus far, 15 students have been awarded a total of $300,000 in tuition-based scholarships and support.
Back and Forward: A Family Tradition
In his childhood home, Dr. Umphrey learned about love, faith, hard work and service.
“I was raised in a very humble home. My parents are both very godly Christians. My dad worked three jobs, and they were both highly dedicated teachers, teaching over 50 years. So I got my work ethic and my passion, love and dedication to service from them,” he said.
And now the Umphreys are passing the same message along to their two children, Rylan, 13, and Makena, 10.
“Our kids aren’t necessarily interested in medicine. That’s okay. Our goal is for them to see us and how we work, how we’re helping others so that they, whatever profession they decide to go into, can carry that on as well. Their primary goal should be to serve others in a godly way, passionately and with love. They should maximize their talents to help others benefit, and those others can carry on and help more people. So we want to be good examples for them as they grow up and become young adults,” Dr. Umphrey said.
A Parting Reminder
Dr. Umphrey has created significant improvements in his patients’ overall pain and function. ElevateMeD is well established, and medical students are reaping the benefits. The Umphrey children are learning the family tradition of giving and service. He has changed many lives for the better.
As future advancements unfold, he will use these new resources throughout his journey of service.
“I think the new exciting thing is that we’re going to be able to use what we learn in the future to maximize how we live and how we heal,” Dr. Umphrey said.
Dr. Umphrey will continue to heal his patients and improve a system that previously left current and prospective medical students without support.
Some people dedicate themselves to a life of service, and Dr. Gregory Umphrey is one of those people.