Commitment to Society

Jack Geiger was born in NYC to parents who immigrated to America from Austria and Germany.  Jack graduated from high school when he was 14.  He was not old enough to go to college, so he got a job with the New York Times.  Jack was a fan of jazz and spent most evenings in Harlem listening to the jazz greats.  He left his home to live in Harlem with an African American actor, Canada Lee.  It was in Lee’s home that he first learned about racism.

Geiger was able to get an exemption to attend college but left when he was 18 to join the war effort.  He enlisted in the Merchant Marines since it was the only integrated military service.  When Jack was discharged, he decided to pursue a medical degree at the University of Chicago.  What he found was disturbing.  African Americans were denied treatment and were not admitted to medical school.  He organized a strike protesting the racism.  Over 2,000 doctors and students joined in the strike.  He was blackballed by the AMA for his efforts.  He was eventually able to complete his medical education at Case Western.  While in medical school, he was given a grant to go to South Africa to work in a health clinic.  His work involved more than medical care including sanitation, nutrition, and food security.

The experience in South Africa led Dr. Geiger to focus on a more holistic approach to medicine.  He became involved in the creation of Physicians for Social Responsibility.  He also became involved in President Johnson’s War on Poverty and created health clinics in the Deep South.  His work again focused on conditions that led to poor health including sanitation, drinking water, food, and education.  The work that he started now includes 1,300 clinics serving more than 28 million low-income patients.

How many professionals have the commitment that Dr. Geiger had to use their professional skills for the benefit of society?  He expanded the concept of what health care should be.  He wasn’t asked to do this.  He could have had a lucrative medical practice and comfortable life style.  But that was not his calling.

No matter the profession, we can make a difference beyond just the limited practice of our profession.  This requires a commitment to reaching out to those in need.  It may be uncomfortable at times.  Commitment is more than financial contributions.  It involves touching areas of need in a personal way.  At the end of one’s career, these personal commitments to others are what we reflect on as our greatest accomplishments.

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“The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment.”
– Anthony Robbins (Author, coach, motivational speaker)

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