Respected psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Irwin Marcus, MD, died on October 3. He was 102. Dedicated to his profession, Marcus was seeing patients until earlier this year. His long and illustrious career included creating and founding programs and organizations wherever he saw a need.
Among his many professional accomplishments, Marcus helped found the child and adolescent psychiatry program at Tulane University School of Medicine, in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was one of the founders and a past president of the New Orleans Psychoanalytic Institute.
Marcus was also former chairman of the psychiatric department at Touro Infirmary and clinical professor emeritus at Louisiana State University Medical School, both in New Orleans.
“He initiated a number of traditions that are still important to us ― community outreach, treating underserved youth, and strong interdisciplinary relationships,” Charles H. Zeanah, Jr, MD, current Mary Peters Sellars-Polchow chair of psychiatry at Tulane, told Medscape Medical News.
Marcus also continued to treat adult patients by phone and at his home until mid-June of this year. He had also started writing a children’s book.
It was his “tremendous work ethic” and creativity that kept him working past the age of 100, his wife, Angela Hill, a former news anchor, told Medscape Medical News.
Even vision loss resulting from macular degeneration and long-standing hearing problems did not stop him, she noted.
“He was always thinking creatively; he was always thinking intellectually,” said Hill. “That was, to me, the marvel of him.”
He was always thinking creatively; he was always thinking intellectually. That was, to me, the marvel of him.
Wartime Service, Brain-Trauma Clinic
Born in Chicago in 1919, Marcus studied first at the Illinois Institute of Technology before transferring to the University of Illinois School of Medicine.
Neurosurgery was an early interest, and Marcus undertook his medical residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. The day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the US Army.
During World War II, Marcus served in the Army Medical Corps and treated brain injuries and other wounds before he was badly injured himself and had to return to the United States for treatment.
After his recovery, he worked at an army medical facility in El Paso, Texas. On the basis of his earlier experiences, he founded a clinic there to diagnose and treat brain trauma.
After the war, Marcus continued his studies at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, in New York City. Soon, his focus became psychiatry, child psychiatry, and psychoanalysis.
In 1951, Marcus accepted a position at Tulane. He created the Family Study Unit there the following year. Zeanah noted that the original name was chosen out of concern over the stigma associated with the term “child psychiatry.”
However, the environment changed relatively quickly, and the unit soon became known as Tulane Child Psychiatry.
Research, Books, Helmet Patent
Marcus received Tulane’s first research grant in child psychiatry from the National Institute of Mental Health to investigate the potential mechanisms behind accident-prone children. That interest was inspired by his own clinical experience.
The findings, which were published in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, showed that being accident prone was a nonspecific response to stressors from multiple sources, including a temperamental disposition, parent-child conflict, and family conflict.
To provide care to young patients, Marcus collaborated with the Children’s Bureau, the Jewish Children’s Home, the German Protestant’s Orphan Asylum, and Associated Catholic Charities.
Marcus also started school consultation programs at local schools and in the pediatric wards at Charity Hospital and successfully persuaded child protective services that children in foster care needed consultation and help. Tulane Child and Adolescent Psychiatry continues these initiatives today.
Throughout his career, Marcus participated in and initiated several professional organizations. He was a founder and the first president of the Louisiana Council for Child Psychiatry and the first president of the Louisiana Group Therapy Association.
Marcus was the author of six books and numerous peer-reviewed articles on child psychiatry, family counseling, marriage counseling, medical education, psychoanalysis, and sex therapy. He also received a patent on a football helmet designed to prevent concussion.
“He Saved My Life”
In 2002, Marcus participated in the 50th anniversary celebration of Tulane’s child psychiatry program. He returned in 2009 for what would be his final grand rounds presentation, which included an inspiring interview with Zeanah.
“He talked about the early history of child psychiatry, the things that he’d been trying to do, and some of the challenges that he faced,” Zeanah said.
Marcus’s former patients often told Hill how much he had helped them, she said.
“People would walk up and say, ‘Angela, Irwin won’t tell you this, but he saved my life,’ ” said Hill. “A couple walked up at a restaurant, and both of them said, ‘He saved our family.’ “
Throughout his professional life, Marcus continued to strive toward growth and providing aid, she added.
“That is the bottom line of Irwin Marcus: all of his work was to help,” said Hill.
Follow Erik Greb on Twitter: @MedscapeErik.