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Chiropractor deals with Congress' pains in neck

By Peggy Peck
MedPage Today Managing Editor

Editor's note: CNN.com has a business partnership with MedPageToday.com, which provides custom health content. A medical profile from MedPage Today appears each Tuesday.

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Dr. William Morgan works with a patient to strengthen her back muscles.

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Capitol Hill

BETHESDA, Maryland (MedPage Today) -- When a Supreme Court justice is nursing an aching back or a senator has a crick in the neck, Dr. William Morgan is the man they may call for help.

Morgan, 47, is the first chiropractor to receive hospital privileges at the National Naval Medical Center here. Part of his job description is chiropractor to Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.

That's a long way from his childhood as one of four boys in a family of six in the San Francisco Bay area.

After high school, Morgan joined the Navy and after training as a hospital corpsman, he was assigned to a Marine Corps reconnaissance unit and a Navy special warfare unit.

During his childhood in California he had discovered scuba diving, and that avocation came in handy when he provided paramedical and diving-medicine care for a platoon of Navy frogmen.

Back pain revelation

After the Navy, he decided it was time for college, but he didn't have a specific career goal.

He found one after he injured his back.

"For months I tried traditional treatments and had no relief," he said. "Finally, when I could barely walk, I went to a chiropractor. I was 90 percent better in just a week."

That experience convinced him that he should pursue a career in chiropractic medicine. Unlike medical doctors, chiropractors rely on manipulation of joints, exercise and nutrition to treat musculoskeletal pain.

Chiropractic training requires four years at a chiropractic college, with the first two years devoted to basic science and the last two to clinical lectures.

Morgan started his chiropractic career with a three-month stint on a medical missionary team in western Africa -- a calling that he said came to him while he was in college.

Good timing

Back home in California, he married Clare Pelkey, a fellow chiropractor he met while both were students at Palmer College of Chiropractic West in San Jose.

That was in 1987, a year that a federal judge ruled that the American Medical Association was guilty of restraint of trade when it blocked chiropractors from obtaining privileges at hospitals and reimbursement from insurance companies. In 1990 the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that ruling and ordered the AMA to pay damages.

Morgan enjoyed his private practice for 13 years, during which he pursued his hobbies of scuba diving and karate -- he teaches kenpo and jujitsu. He and his wife had two sons and a daughter. Then he heard about an opportunity -- the National Naval Medical Center was looking for a chiropractor.

World-class experience

"From my time in the Navy I knew that Bethesda was a world-class medical center and that working there would be something very special."

The military had started accepting chiropractors in 1995, but in 1998 when the offer came from Bethesda, there were no chiropractors there.

Morgan packed up his family and moved to Maryland, where he became a contract employee of the U.S. Navy.

Now, three days a week he shares clinic duties at the 250-acre medical campus in Bethesda, which is a stone's throw from the District of Columbia, and two days a week he works on Capitol Hill.

His wife home-schools their four children, ages 5 to 17, and joins him and his sons on scuba diving excursions off North Carolina's Outer Banks.

"Last summer we had the most exciting experience we've ever had," he recalled. "We were diving around a wreck when we encountered hundreds of sharks."

Swimming with sharks may have prepared him for his work in Washington, but he declines to comment on any similarities, claiming confidentiality.

In his years at Bethesda, Morgan has worked to develop a collaborative approach to treatment, working side-by-side with physical and occupational therapists as well as medical doctors in what he sees as an easy relationship.

Most of all, however, he remains grateful for his good fortune and the backache that led to a career.

"I have the best job in the hospital and I get immediate gratification for what I do. When people come to me they are at the end of the line. They have tried everything and nothing worked. So, when I try something and it works, I am gratified."

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