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David Geffen School of Medicine

Tribute to a Mentor and Friend

  Drs. Mark Morocco; Marshall Morgan; Richelle Cooper; Ilene Claudius; and Jerome Hoffman

(From left) Drs. Mark Morocco; Marshall Morgan; Richelle Cooper, clinical professor of medicine/emergency medicine; Ilene Claudius (MD ‘97, RES ’02), USC associate professor of clinical emergency medicine; and Jerome Hoffman, professor emeritus of medicine/emergency medicine, during Emergency Medicine grand rounds in 2007.
Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Mark Morocco

The path that led Mark Morocco, MD (RES ‘02), professor of emergency medicine, to the Emergency Department of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center began with a life-threatening injury he suffered in a car accident while working in the arts in New York City. Observing the work of emergency-medicine, trauma-surgery and critical-care teams while in the hospital helped him make a decision that would lead to medical school at age 34. After completing his residency, Dr. Morocco spent a number of years as a medical supervisor and staff writer on the television show ER before returning to the UCLA faculty in 2006 as associate residency director for emergency medicine at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. He recently completed two terms as president of the UCLA Medical Alumni Association. Throughout his time at UCLA, Dr. Morocco enjoyed the friendship of Marshall Morgan, MD, chief of emergency medicine, who died in April 2015, at the age of 73.

Marshall was famous as a founding father of emergency medicine, which in the 1970s was emerging as a new specialty. He was a giant in our field, and no matter where you went, when someone found out you were from UCLA, they would ask, “Is Marshall still there?” or “Do you know Dr. Morgan?” It was a little like knowing Elvis.

Here is how we met, and it says a lot about who Marshall was. When I was a first-year medical student, I came home to Los Angeles for spring break, looking for something medical to do during the summer between my first and second years, after which medical students work year round for the remainder of their education. I knew I wanted to work in a trauma center, so I cold-called the medical directors of every big emergency department in the city. I would call the general number, get to the administrative office, chat up the secretary, figure out who was in charge and then leave a voicemail or a message. I must have called 20 places. Of course, no one called me back.

Except Marshall Morgan, the chief at UCLA, who warmly invited me to meet him for 15 minutes the next day — “if that’s convenient,” he said. After sizing me up, he introduced me to a couple of faculty members who were world-famous and had plenty of projects for eager medical students. I asked him why he called back, and he said something like, “Because you asked for help, and in my position I can help, and if I didn’t, it wouldn’t be right or polite.”

Marshall worked every day to balance what was right and polite with the demands of his work, no matter who the person was with whom he was engaged. He loved people, and he had an eye for seeing what was special in each person he met. But maintaining that level of commitment to patients, students, nurses, residents and faculty was not always easy. Doing the right thing seldom is, but that is how Marshall defined himself. No aspiring physician or professional colleague could ask for a braver or better role model.
This characteristic made him more famous for his compassion and his advocacy than for his research. I think he turned his keen eye on himself and recognized this talent, and he advanced UCLA’s Department of Emergency Medicine and residency program using this formula: Find great people, support them and get out of their way. He made my career choices easy; because of him and the tone that he and his faculty set, UCLA was always No. 1 on my rank lists.

His compassion extended to each patient, especially the ones who were marginalized by homelessness, race or some other stigma. In emergency medicine, we don’t get to pick our patients, and Marshall reminded us that each patient had a story and that each person mattered and deserved our best care, every day, one person, one patient at a time — long before “patient-centered care” became emphasized.

When he came to me as a patient, the night his illness was diagnosed, he waved aside my offer to see him without the involvement of house staff first. Of course a resident should see him, anything else wouldn’t be right, he said. “The patients are our teachers,” Marshall would say. And he taught the right lessons to the very end of his life, living every day what he taught.


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