James Geiling ’78
It might surprise my classmates to know that, though I hadn’t been a member of ROTC and hadn’t any prior military experience, I wound up as a second lieutenant medical student at the Uniformed Services University (USU) after graduation. While my passion had always been to become a physician, the chance to serve in the military also had tugged at me. Attending USU proved to be a great fit to meet both goals, all while serving my patients and our nation.

I spent the next 25 years caring for patients in the United States and Germany as well as in Bosnia and other hotspots, where my training in austere and disaster medicine paid off. One memorable role was as commander of the Pentagon’s 200-personnel medical clinic on Sept. 11, 2001.

I started that day making rounds with my residents in the intensive care unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. After the plane hit the Pentagon, we began caring for injured patients coming from the scene. But I soon had to hand those patients off and return to the Pentagon clinic. That was my duty station, and I needed to be with my people. Together, we led the medical response to the event as well as the anthrax attacks that followed a week later.
James Geiling Headshot
Photo: Gordon Wenzel
Nine years later, disaster struck again. I was then a retired Army colonel, teaching at Dartmouth’s medical school and serving as medical service chief and director of the ICU at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt. While attending a critical-care conference in Miami, Fla., in January 2010, I watched in horror as images of Haiti, where a massive earthquake had just erupted, played on the TV screen. Practicing “Good Medicine in Bad Places,” USU’s motto, matches my own medical mission, and so I eagerly accepted a request to lead a Dartmouth–Partners in Health disaster-response team. Eight days after the quake, I arrived with a team of critical-care nurses to establish an ICU at the destroyed university hospital in Port au Prince.
So where is Bucknell in these stories? Medical school would not have happened without organic chemistry professor Manning Smith grilling us at the blackboard and biology professor Sally Nyquist quietly supporting my honors thesis. Even Tau Kappa Epsilon played a key role, teaching me about brotherhood, leadership and service to others — all traits that were solidified through my medical schooling at USU and subsequent years of Army training and deployments.

In a subtle way, however, outside the foundation for medical school that started in Taylor Hall and Olin Science, Bucknell opened my mind far beyond the required prehealth classes. Art in the Dark, Music 101 and Geography 101 showed me the world — that culture and geography count and that world issues impact us all, directly.

It was this cultural competency — art, music, geography, religion and so many other nonmedical skills fostered at Bucknell that made the medicine work at the Pentagon and in Haiti. You can’t practice medicine in these settings if you don’t know how to work with leaders, lawyers, chaplains, business people, journalists, engineers, logisticians and others. And to touch your patients, to really feel their needs and situation, you have to understand the Bible in their hands, the art they hang in their tents and the songs they sing during a painful dressing change. That’s the kind of diversity I first encountered at Bucknell.

Recipient of Bucknell’s Outstanding Achievement in a Chosen Profession Award this year, James Geiling is a professor of medicine at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine as well as an intensivist and hospitalist.