A Doctor Who Fought Social Ills, Dies at 95
He used medicine to take on poverty, racism and the threat of nuclear destruction.
I’ve heard about Jack Geiger for decades – but didn’t know what a picaresque life he led! After reading his obit in the 12.29.20 NY Times, I can’t wait for the movie starring Harrison Ford to screen.
Excerpts: NY Times Obit.
Dr. H. Jack Geiger, who ran away to Harlem as a teenager and emerged a lifelong civil rights activist, helping to bring medical care and services to impoverished regions and to start two antiwar doctors groups that shared in Nobel Peace Prizes, died on Monday at his home in Brooklyn.
Dr. Geiger was a leading proponent of “social medicine,” the idea that doctors should use their expertise and moral authority not just to treat illness but also to change the conditions that made people sick in the first place: poverty, hunger, discrimination, joblessness and lack of education.
The social order, not medical services, determines health, Dr. Geiger said in “Out in the Rural,” a short documentary film made in 1970 about the first community health center in Mississippi. “
Discharged from the merchant marines in 1947, Dr. Geiger enrolled as a pre-med student at the University of Chicago. He discovered racial discrimination there — Black patients being excluded from certain hospitals, qualified Black students being rejected by the medical school. He fought the policies for three years and ultimately helped organize a 1,000-strong faculty and student protest strike — an activity virtually unheard of in that era.
“I took a long look around,” Dr. Geiger recalled of his first visit to Mississippi. He saw conditions much like those he witnessed in South Africa: families living in shacks with no clean drinking water, toilets or sewers; sky-high rates of malnutrition, illness, infant death and illiteracy; few or no opportunities for residents to better themselves and escape. He did not have to travel to Africa to find people in trouble, he realized.
He paid a price for his rabble-rousing in Chicago. The American Medical Association wrote to medical schools warning of his “extracurricular activities.” No school would take him. He had, in effect, been blackballed. Eventually, he was admitted to Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.