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Black History Month: Spotlight on Psychiatrist Charles J. Morgan

February 01, 2021

Black History Month: Spotlight on Psychiatrist Charles J. Morgan

By Jennifer Larson, contributor

When you enter the office of psychiatrist Charles J. Morgan, MD, you might not even notice the white lab coat that hangs on the back of his chair. After all, lots of physicians leave their white coats on their chairs when they’re not wearing them.

But this lab coat is different.

It’s spattered with paint and the signatures of dozens of teenagers. It’s the coat that Morgan wore when volunteering in a group home setting for adolescent girls in his home country of Jamaica.

“It’s a constant reminder for me,” he said.

About six years ago, Morgan began organizing a group of people, including art and music therapists, social workers and nurse practitioners to travel to Jamaica and integrate a series of trauma recovery interventions for those young girls. He was already regularly going on mission trips with PRN Relief International.

Morgan was touched by how the girls responded to him and his team, pouring out their love and appreciation, and they emphasized it by scrawling their messages of thanks and love across his lab coat.

This volunteer work, which he typically does twice a year, is a reminder that the work that he does as a physician in the mental health arena, both in Jamaica and in the United States, is a kind of calling.

“And it’s been a blast,” said Morgan.

How he got here: The making of a distinguished career

Today, Morgan is the chair of the psychiatry department at Bridgeport Hospital in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a job he’s held for 20 years.

He began his psychiatry career as a resident at Yale University School of Medicine. He has worked in a variety of different positions since then, including outpatient care, private practice and academic positions. He’s given presentations on AIDS and transcultural and spiritual issues in psychiatry and co-authored numerous publications on addiction.

In his current role, he oversees the psychiatry department, provides patient care, provides support to his staff, and hires behavioral health providers, including some through Merritt Hawkins.

Morgan relishes being a psychiatrist, but it wasn’t his original career path. He initially thought he wanted to be a science teacher. With that goal in mind, he became a biochemistry major at City College in New York.

While he was studying, he took on a volunteer job with an emergency room in a Bronx hospital, where he helped screen patients and learned how to take vital signs from the nurses. Then, he volunteered in a clinic that served large numbers of African-American and Latino patients, many of whom had diabetes and high blood pressure.

So, when he changed gears and decided to apply to medical school at Cornell, he thought he’d stick with primary care, where he could continue working with people coping with diabetes, hypertension and other chronic conditions.

During his first year of medical school, though, Morgan took a course on interviewing patients that was taught by a psychiatrist named Dr. Wilson.

“The respect that he showed patients and the way he modeled patient care was what inspired me,” Morgan recalled.

The importance of mentorship

Morgan can recall the names of many men and women who’ve mentored him and inspired him along the way. They helped him get to where he is today. And he would advise young physicians to embrace the benefits of having a mentor. Mentorship can be especially valuable for people of color who are entering the field of medicine.

“For young people coming up, they should be looking out for good mentors and not waiting for them,” he said.

The value of Black History Month

Morgan noted that Black History Month, which is celebrated in February in the United States and Canada, is an opportunity to honor the contributions that black people have made.

“Especially now, it allows me to reflect on the history and the culture and the value that we bring to this society,” he said. “That’s not always acknowledged.”

Yet progress is still needed, including in the mental health workforce and other areas of medicine. Studies have shown that minority groups tend to be underrepresented in psychiatry and have generally been underrepresented in the behavioral health workforce as a whole.

But hopefully, eventually, it won’t be an issue anymore. “I pray for the day when we don’t have a Black History Month,” Morgan said. “It will be such a part of what the American fabric is.”

Merritt Hawkins is the leading physician and advanced practitioner placement firm in the U.S., with hundreds of opportunities in psychiatry and other medical specialties.


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