Fairfield Now - Fall 2007
Charles Morgan, M.D.
Partner in health, spirit of hope
By Meredith Guinness
The staff in Counseling and Psychological Services looks forward to Thursdays - and not just because it's one step closer to the weekend. Thursday brings the weekly visit from the office's psychiatric consultant Charles Morgan, M.D., a friend and mentor as well as a crucial link making college life possible for several students.
"Dr. Morgan is a tremendous asset to Fairfield University and truly personifies excellence in terms of quality of care and educating the student," says Susan N. Birge, Ed.D., assistant vice president of Student Affairs and director of Counseling & Psychological Services. "He brings compassion, understanding, and hope to our Fairfield students who are going through difficult times."
A simple twist of fate brought Dr. Morgan to Fairfield six years ago. A colleague was moving to Massachusetts and asked Dr. Morgan if he'd like to take his place as Fairfield's consultant. Enjoying the collegiality of the hospital setting, Dr. Morgan wasn't sure what to expect at Fairfield, but what he saw on a tour convinced him to take the post.
"I really liked the approach to caring for young adults here," says the Weston, Conn., father of two. "It's a team approach, a holistic approach that looks at the student as responsible for his or her care, a partner in treatment."
Soon Dr. Morgan, who has been chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Bridgeport Hospital since 2001, was a vital part of that team. Each Thursday, he divides his afternoon between professional development, supervision, and staff support, and evaluation, treatment, and medical maintenance for University students. About 15 percent of the students who are in counseling use his services, Dr. Birge says. Many see him as a key to their success in college.
Dr. Charles Morgan, M.D. (second from right), chief of psychiatry at Bridgeport Hospital, meets weekly with the counselors who staff the University's Office of Counseling and Psychological Services: (l-r), Rob Wething, Elise Harrison, and Dr. Susan Birge, director.
"Dr. Morgan has played an integral part in helping me learn to manage my disorder. I will be able to adjust easily to life after college through what I've learned," says one student, speaking anonymously, noting that Dr. Morgan's presence illustrates another aspect of Fairfield University's commitment to educating the whole person.
In addition to his office duties, Dr. Morgan, who has written and presented extensively on addiction and abuse, offers training for the Department of Public Safety, which is often the first to encounter students in emergency situations. He has also addressed the University's referral network of mental health providers on trends in college students' mental health.
What is he seeing? On the negative side, Dr. Morgan says he sees a gradual increase in binge and underage drinking that has mirrored a trend on campuses nationwide. Yet on the positive side, he sees a generation unfettered by the old stigma surrounding mental illness. "They don't have to hide," he says. "More are seeking help and more are reporting things. And this generation is much more into research. They look things up on the Internet; they know the medications. They keep me sharp. "
Another bright note is the rise of more sophisticated drug treatment for mental illnesses. "It's remarkable," he says, "Students who might not have made it to college before the advent of these medications, now we're seeing they're able. Having a mental illness doesn't have to stop you from achieving."
Dr. Morgan certainly knows a thing or two about achieving. Born in Manchester, Jamaica - "in the real hills" - he came to New York City after finishing high school because he knew he needed a place where he could both find a job and attend classes. City College of the City University of New York fit the bill. He earned his bachelor's degree, magna cum laude, in 1979, and headed off to Cornell University Medical College, where he received his M.D. four years later.
Dr. Morgan had envisioned himself in biochemistry, perhaps teaching. He realized his true passion for primary care while volunteering at a hospital and finding his best mentors among his psychiatry instructors. And the nature of the profession suited his facile mind and caring personality. "I like to spend time actually getting to know people as people," he says.
After an internship at Greenwich Hospital, Dr. Morgan completed residencies at Yale University School of Medicine and the Connecticut Mental Health Center Day Hospital in New Haven. Before coming to Bridgeport, he was director of substance abuse services at Four Winds Hospital in Katonah, N.Y., and chief of ambulatory services at Yonkers Hospital.
While rewarding, psychiatry can be exhausting work. Recognizing this, Dr. Morgan actively seeks ways to boost his spirit. Each Sunday and on Fridays during Lent, he drives to New Haven's St. Luke's Episcopal Church, where he has been attending services since he was at Yale. Over the years, he's become a church leader, serving as coordinator of the Lectors and Lay Readers Guild and the acolytes. It's a long ride, but Dr. Morgan says he and his wife, gastroenterologist Dr. Joan Culpepper, find the church community inspiring. "It's important for me to recharge my batteries spiritually," he says.
Another spiritual journey is his annual volunteer mission trip to Kingston, Jamaica. Part of a team of 25 Bridgeport-affiliated healthcare providers, he spends a week in some of the tougher neighborhoods, often working out of a converted refrigerator truck, sometimes without running water. "I do primary care medicine when I'm there," he says. "We see about 1,000 patients in a week for whatever they need. I don't think I've ever met people who were as grateful for the care they receive."
Dr. Morgan was especially moved, when he was in Jamaica as Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. "The people I was seeing there were all concerned for the Katrina victims," he says.
Trips to the Metropolitan Opera in New York also provide a welcome release. "I can kind of lose myself in a whole different time and place," he says. Dr. Morgan's son, Louis, a senior at Indiana University School of Music, inherited his dad's passion and plans a career in music education. His daughter, Elizabeth, is just finishing her first year at Brown University. Having two college-age students gives Dr. Morgan a special insight into his younger patients and their family dynamics. "I think it allows me to be sensitive to where their parents are," he says. "There's this pull to want to rescue them and to want to let them take responsibility."
The students Dr. Morgan treats often remark that his level of compassion makes all the difference in their college experiences. "Knowing that there is support like Dr. Morgan at Fairfield University is so reassuring," says one. "It gives me the confidence that I can succeed here."