Dr Nirvana Morgan (34)

PhD student, lecturer, psychiatrist and researcher, Department of Psychiatry, University of the Witwatersrand

Growing up Dr Nirvana Morgan was very close to a person with a mental illness. This made her question why people with mental illnesses are stigmatised and also sparked an interest in psychiatry. After completing her medical degree at Wits University in 2007, she chose to specialise in the field.

Her focus has since turned to addiction psychiatry and the surge of nyaope use in South African townships. “During my psychiatry training I worked in a rehabilitation facility that treated people with addiction and mental illness,” she explains. “During this time many of my preconceived ideas and judgements about addicts were challenged and I found the work incredibly rewarding. I also chose to focus on this area, as there is a dire need for more medical professionals in this field.”

Last year Morgan was awarded the Cassandra Miller-Butterworth Fellowship, which allows her to investigate the current nyaope pandemic as a PhD student. For this she has conducted detailed assessments of 300 nyaope users as they entered rehabilitation facilities, and she is now following up on them three months and nine months after leaving treatment. She was also awarded a National Research Foundation Thuthuka grant that further supports her studies and allows for interdisciplinary collaboration.

She is the co-chair of an international Network of Early Career Addiction Medicine Professionals, which aims to empower and support early career professionals working in the field of addiction medicine. She has spoken at forums at the World Health Organisation — where she highlighted the challenges faced by health care professionals working in the field of addiction medicine in South Africa and the need for more training at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels — as well as in Abu Dhabi. Later this year, she will be speaking at the International Psychiatry Congresses in Egypt and Mexico.

The sky is the limit for Morgan, whose aim is to continue to fight for better prevention, care and treatment for those affected by addiction. She has the following advice for aspiring psychiatrists: “Psychiatrists have the privileged position of being allowed into people’s inner world; respect this space and be inspired by it. Pursue your career with a hunger to see a better life for your patients.” — Fatima Asmal