Photo provided by St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea Hospital.

By: Seth Kinker,

Growing up, Douglas Geiger always thought about going into medicine.

He was one of nine children, the son of a general surgeon in Toledo, Ohio. Early on, Geiger told The Sun Times he thought about going into medicine because of how highly he thought of his father.

As a child he would sometimes go in with his father on weekend rounds and said he was intrigued by that process. But even in his younger years in high school, and early parts of college, he said he wasn’t totally committed to medicine and thought it might be a phase.


While finishing an undergraduate degree in biology at the University of Toledo, Geiger began to think about medical school. He did some research on it and while he was doing that, went back to school to get a Master of Science degree with a focus in immunology from the same university. Geiger credits his professors, with many of whom he did graduate work with, for keeping his interest in the sciences.

After only a year or so off and while working towards his master’s degree, he then began classes at the Medical College of Ohio, now the University of Toledo College of Medicine.

Geiger and a brother that also became a surgeon had the honor of having their father gown them at their graduations for medical school.

“I know we certainly enjoyed that very much but I think for him it was even worth more,” said Geiger. “I know he really enjoyed the fact that he had a couple of sons that had gone into surgery.”

After medical school Geiger was fairly certain his future was in the surgical field.

“I am sure that had something to do with the fact that my father was a surgeon but it also had something to do with my mentality,” said Geiger. “For me the idea of solving problems by surgically doing things seemed to make the most sense so I made that big decision.”

He then applied for orthopedic residency and said that while being a medical student, seeing general surgery residents and orthopedic residents gave him an additional nudge on where he saw his future.

Geiger spent five years at the Henry Ford Hospital Orthopedic Residency Program in Detroit after finishing medical school.

“It was phenomenal training,” said Geiger who said he dealt with penetrating trauma ranging from gunshot wounds to knife wounds. “Because the amount of pathology and just extreme cases with so many things was so demonstrative that you couldn’t help but learn and also get very competent at operating and handling problems.”

Six months after starting the program Geiger had to take six weeks off for surgery to repaira disc herniation. While recuperating he read about his problem and said he could relate to the people he wanted to help down the road through his work.

While at Henry Ford, he worked with a spine surgeon, Dr. Dale Hoekstra, who was a favorite of many in his class, so much so that three of the six residents went into spine surgery.

“The other thing he did for us was he facilitated a part of the residency program to go out to Minnesota to the Twin Cities. We spent four months working with a group of spine surgeons there that were world-renowned,” said Geiger of Dale Hoekstra. “I would say that that experience and the experience with working with Dr. Hoekstra and then my own personal experience those three things really solidified the idea of subspecializing in spine surgery.”

After completing a two year fellowship training in spine surgery in Minnesota, Geiger returned to Michigan where he found his way to St. Joe’s Chelsea.  He has since spent the last 25 years, and counting, as an orthopedic spine surgeon.

Geiger said it was typical for at least half of surgeons to change their jobs or locations within the first couple of years. For him, the ability to pursue things in his field at St. Joe’s were a big reason to stay.

“Because of my experience in Minnesota I had a special interest and knack for doing deformity surgery so things like scoliosis in kids and adults,” said Geiger. “I was able to do that at St. Joe’s. Then the other thing, St Joe’s is a unique place in that it has a lot of well-trained very highly qualified physicians in general. I’ve been to enough places to know that’s true and I’ve spent enough time working with these guys and gals to know that’s true, too. When you’re in that environment you say, ‘Hey this is a good place to be. You’ve got good people. It’s a very satisfying professional arena.’”

There have been many changes in his field over the past 25 years, but Geiger said one of the biggest changes is how the spine is accessed. When he began, you would go in and surgically uncover the spine to look at the anatomy and the anatomical landmarks for a guide to work around. Now, he said the push is towards a minimally invasive approach that is better for the spine.

“There is less trauma to muscles and the tissues when you do that and if there is less trauma that translates into less pain and fewer infections. It means that people recover more quickly and it means that people don’t need to stay in the hospital as long and in some cases,  they don’t need to stay in the hospital at all. It’s an outpatient operation,” said Geiger.

Geiger touched on the opioid scare in this day and age with this type of surgery possibly resulting in less need for opioid medication.

“We know that you don’t have to be a narcotic addict coming in to end up being a narcotic addict after surgery and probably about 15% of patients who come in to have a surgery who have never been exposed to narcotics preoperatively will be addicted to them postoperatively,” said Geiger. “It’s a daunting statistic so if you can do things through a minimally invasive approach and minimize the need for narcotics, there’s that added benefit.”

While Geiger’s practice has shifted from maximally invasive deformity surgery to minimally invasive procedures, the one guiding principle of high quality patient care remains at the center of all he does.  Less pain, shorter hospital stays, and fewer complications through new minimally invasive techniques have helped to reduce the anxiety people have when considering the prospect of spine surgery.