Picking a Painful Profession
words by Maryann Brinley / photograph by Pete Byron
nce or twice a year, Patricia D. Morgan-Glenn, MD, reflects on her emotionally and mentally challenging position as the medical director for the state’s oldest child abuse and neglect center. “There is just so much vicarious trauma that we go through here on a daily basis. How can people hurt innocent children? Neglect them? Abuse them? Not provide them with the love or nurturing they need? The work is just so hard that you have to be drawn to this field.”
At the Metro Regional Diagnostic and Treatment Center (RDTC) for Child Abuse and Neglect at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, her staff of psychologists, social workers, and healthcare professionals, as well as her husband, all encourage her to continue to be a medical advocate for children. As the only full-time physician at the RDTC and a mother of two — her daughter is 7 and her son is 5 — Morgan-Glenn gives her husband especially high marks for the past few months. She’s been working long hours and explains that besides the backing of her husband, it also helps to have a strong support circle. “I talk to my colleagues and we help each other emotionally. We get past the low points and soon realize that somebody has to do this important work.”
The Metro RDTC, the oldest of four state designated centers, sees more than 600 new cases a year and offers children special medical and psychological evaluations for suspected child abuse and neglect. In her role, Morgan-Glenn works closely with New Jersey’s Child Protective Service agency, the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, and Wynona’s House Child Advocacy Center. “Child abuse is the second leading cause of death for children under age 3 in the U.S. By 18, one out of every four girls and one out of every six boys will be a victim of sexual abuse. These are just staggering statistics,” she says.
At age 39, Morgan-Glenn is the youngest medical director in the state. The former undergraduate zoology major at Howard University explains, “I always wanted to be a pediatrician, probably from the age of 10 or 11. I trained in Newark and my medical school and residency experiences were invaluable. My training prepared me to handle anything clinically.” It was in her second year of a pediatric residency at UMDNJ-University Hospital (UH) that her interest in child abuse “was piqued.” There were just so many cases of suspected abuse in the hospital’s Emergency Department (ED) that she decided that someone had to do something. “I felt that this shouldn’t be happening to children. There were limited opportunities for further training but I was fortunate to be offered a position as an attending at the RDTC, formerly known as the Children’s Hospital Abuse Management Program or CHAMP.”
She’s been serving this most vulnerable child population in Newark and Essex County for eight years. Besides the important task of accurately diagnosing and treating child abuse and neglect, Morgan-Glenn feels that one of her goals is to influence others to realize their responsibility to prevent child abuse. On a typical day, she conducts medical evaluations in the morning. “We take as much time as we need with each child.” Most of the evaluations are scheduled but there are instances when urgent cases are seen soon after the abuse is discovered. An hour and a half is not unusual for an exam. “Anyone who works with these children has to be as unbiased and as empathetic as possible,” she explains. This is imperative in order to get the most accurate medical history. It’s an essential characteristic or quality for working in this field. “On a weekly basis, a multi-disciplinary team will review the cases of physical and sexual abuse to make sure we aren’t missing any of the important pieces of the case or not providing any of the necessary services the child or family needs.”
These tough working days — “60 percent clinical and 30 to 40 percent administrative” — are also spent consulting with other health professionals, reviewing cases, serving as an expert witness and educating everyone from physicians and medical students, to law enforcement personnel, child care providers, teachers and school nurses, about child abuse. As chair of the regional fatality review team for Essex and Union counties, she examines all pediatric deaths, not just those related to abuse. And she is also president of the New Jersey chap-ter of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) as well as a member of the New Jersey Task Force on Child Abuse Protection Subcommittee.
In June, this champion for children was honored with a “40-Under-Forty Achievement Award” by The Network Journal, a monthly magazine for black professionals, corporate executives and small business owners. “The 39 other people were so incredible. I was honored and so happy to be part of that group,” she says, recalling the event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in New York City.
Yet, success is closer to home for Morgan-Glenn. “Family,” she insists, is her key. “To be successful you need to achieve a balance between work and personal life — though that can sometimes be hard to do,” admits this young doctor. Yet, to be driven only in your career and not find fulfillment on a personal level would never be the “fullest life possible. I always prefer a holistic approach to anything I do.”