Practicing medicine — specifically the diagnosis and treatment of patients with mental disorders — was always part of Michael D. Morse’s plan. It wasn’t until he journeyed to Jerusalem between college and medical school, however, that he witnessed how his passion for psychiatry and global health could have a real impact on physicians and patients in the Middle East. For Michael Morse, M.D., M.P.A., a third-year psychiatric resident at the GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), the desire to improve the overall well-being of Palestinians was personal.
As an adherent of Orthodox Judaism, Morse had a vested interest in learning how he could help establish clinical partnerships with medical professionals in the region to provide better clinical care. “I wanted to see how a more self-sufficient system that provides high-quality care could advance justice and peace in the distressed region,” he says. During his visit, Morse forged relationships with several Palestinian physicians and health care providers at Birzeit University in Palestine.
Faced with a number of obstacles, such as a lack of physician training opportunities, traveling restrictions for Palestinians in the West Bank and abroad, and a dearth of financial resources devoted to mental health research and care, Morse knew he had to garner support from outside the region to further develop the area’s medical and mental health sectors.
Inspired by what he had learned from his counterparts in Jerusalem, Morse entered Harvard Medical School in 2005. While at Harvard, he also earned a master’s degree in public administration at the Kennedy School of Government.
Through a former GW medical school student enrolled at the Kennedy School of Government, Morse met the clinician who would turn his idea into a reality. James Griffith, M.D., chair of the Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Department at SMHS, shared Morse’s vision of creating a robust residency program that would better equip future clinicians with the right knowledge, tools, and mentorship to be effective global health psychiatrists. “With courage, humility, and dogged persistence, Michael has opened doors in the West Bank and Gaza, and showed how building mental health services can further the cause of peace,” says Griffith.
“Every aspect of my residency training at GW has taught me how to be a better clinician in ways that are relevant to my global health work,” says Morse.
In 2008, Morse created the Palestinian Medical Education Initiative (PMED), an apolitical, nonprofit non-governmental organization that brings together Palestinian health sector leaders and international medical professionals, including faculty and trainees from SMHS, as well as Harvard and Manchester Universities. The initiative promotes the development of a self-sufficient, high-quality Palestinian health care system and reinforces bridges of cooperation and mutual understanding between Palestinians and the international community. Morse, along with El Sarraj and Elizabeth Berger M.D., a clinical faculty member in the Psychiatry Department at SMHS, lead the initiative.
Today, PMED has contributed to psychiatric emergency medicine training, improved school-based mental health services in Gaza, and strengthened the cultural competency of Jerusalem-based healthcare providers.
For Morse, the most rewarding part of his work in the Middle East is the relationships or more importantly, the friendships he has formed with his Palestinians colleagues, as well as his mentors at GW. “The opportunity to work on projects that move Palestinian health and well-being forward is the most fulfilling part of my global health work.”