Intended for healthcare professionals


H Jack Geiger: a doctor takes on poverty, racism, and nuclear war

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 19 March 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n758
  1. Joanne Silberner
  1. Seattle, USA
  1. Joanne.Silberner{at}
Photo shows H Jack Geiger and John Hatch during the construction of the Tufts-Delta Health Center

In the 1960s, H Jack Geiger, working at a clinic in the impoverished “Deep South” of the US, began writing prescriptions for food that were paid for through the clinic’s government funded pharmacy budget. Called to task by a federal official for misusing funds, Geiger had a ready answer. “The last time I checked my medical textbooks,” he replied, “the specific therapy for malnutrition was, in fact, food.”

Social medicine

Jack Geiger forged the field of social medicine with his strong belief that health involves more than just treating the illnesses that brought patients to his clinic. He co-founded the first community health centre in the US and inspired many more. He was a co-founder and president of two physicians’ activist groups that went on to win Nobel peace prizes.

“He was a spectacularly important leader, a pioneer in public health,” says Irwin Redlener, a public health activist and professor of health policy and of paediatrics at Columbia University, and one of Geiger’s many mentees. He was also a crackerjack physician, a “doctor’s doctor,” says Redlener.

Being a physician wasn’t how Geiger initially saw himself. Born in New York City to a doctor father and—rare for that time—a mother who was a microbiologist, Geiger graduated from high school at the age of 14, too young to be accepted at a university. That same year he ran …

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