July 1, 2013
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WILLIAM MORRIS, DO | Professor of Manipulative Medicine
Graduate of University of New England
College of Osteopathic Medicine (‘92)
BY BILLY LIGGETT, PHOTO BY BRYAN REAGAN
William Morris didn’t enter medical school until he was 47. He describes his career before then as, well … erratic.
Paratrooper in the military. Construction worker. Photographer. Rescue squad. Motorcycle safety instructor for the Department of Motor Vehicles.
To name a few.
But each job and each experience uniquely prepared Morris for that new chapter in his life when he was accepted into the University of New England School of Osteopathic Medicine in the late 1980s. There was serendipity involved as well — lifelong back problems were the result of “several collisions with Mother Earth” during his days as a paratrooper, and they got worse during his days in construction.
This led to a visit with an osteopathic physician … a life-changing visit in more ways than one.
“His name was Dr. Wakefield, and I remember not seeing the ‘MD’ after his name and almost walking away,” Morris recalls. “He had this really weird-looking table in his exam room, too. He did all the regular ‘doctor stuff’ with my eyes and nose, but then when he examined my back, I remember thinking, ‘This is a very thorough exam.’”
Wakefield told Morris where his pain was after minutes feeling around his spine, and after several minutes of “crunching sounds” and Morris literally fearing for his life, Wakefield was finished.
“He said, ‘You can sit up now,’ and A) I was amazed that I could actually sit up so easily and B) about three seconds later, it hit me that my pain was gone,” Morris says with a smile. “This pain I’d suffered for decades … it wasn’t just less. It was gone. Holy cow.”
Morris had applied to med schools before and once worked toward a doctorate in endocrinology, but with his interest in medicine again piqued — specifically osteopathic medicine and the “mind, body and spirit” approach — Morris applied for med school at New England. Scared out of his wits entering his first interview, Morris knew questions would arise about why he’d waited so long to do this … why he dropped out of school in the past … other questions he knew would make him doubt his decision.
But the first question was, “Why do you want to be an osteopathic physician?”
“My answer was simply, ‘Because I love putting my hands on people,’” Morris recalled, tears welling in his eyes. “I began to feel at ease. There were other questions, some of them more difficult, but I began to think during that interview, ‘OK … this is going to work. This is what I was meant to do.’”
He described the next four years as the most challenging years in his life. He credited prayer and his collaboration with a few other 40-somethings in his class for getting him through school. Not long into his new career, Morris thought about teaching. And in the same way his military days led him to that physician’s weird table years earlier, his experience as a motorcycle instructor gave him the confidence to get in front of classrooms and reach young minds.
“I truly believe that you really learn the material well when you have to teach it,” Morris says. “I had learned techniques from my past professors, whom I have a great deal of respect for … even those I didn’t always agree with. … I love teaching, and I love watching when a student finally ‘gets it.’ They don’t have to say anything … when they see the way things are supposed to happen, their face lights up. And you didn’t do that … they did it. They got it. It makes it all worth it to me.”
In addition to his role as professor at Campbell, Morris is chairman of manipulative medicine for the med school. He’ll be teaching future physicians the same hands-on approach and distinct osteopathic philosophy that led to the healing of his back and, ultimately, his career in medicine.
“There’s a reason why many people say osteopathic physicians are just nicer docs,” he says. “It’s all about human contact. You’re a human being, and I’m a human being, and I’m here to help you get better. There’s a powerful message there. And that’s why I’m still doing this.”