Jeff Gee, M.D., a leader in the California single-payer movement, was killed on April 2, 2020 while driving to work in Santa Rosa.
Jeff grew up in Los Angeles, attended San Diego State University and UCSF, and trained in family and community medicine at San Francisco General Hospital where he served on the clinical faculty. He practiced in Daly City and San Francisco and had recently joined Santa Rosa Community Health, providing primary care to underserved patients in Sonoma County.
Jeff led the PNHP-Bay Area chapter as chair until 2018 and was returning to full activity after recovering from a setback to his health. He was widely admired as a clear thinker, organizer, lecturer, and political activist. His many friends will remember his wry humor.
He is survived by his wife and fellow PNHP member, Persephone Gee.
Jeff was devoted to mentoring students, and a memorial fund has been established to commemorate his contributions to student participation in the campaign for social justice. The fund will support research and travel for members of Students for a National Health Program. Tax-deductible contributions can be made here (write “Jeff Gee Memorial Fund” in the “In honor/memoriam” field).
It’s easy for people to get caught up in political movements, and forget that the organizing principle of all such movements must be a genuine interest in the wellbeing of your fellow human. Jeff was never one of those people. His warmth and kindness shown through in every interaction, and it is a warmth and kindness that I, his loved ones, and the world at large will sorely miss.
– Andrew Mellen
Jeff was a mentor to me and my classmates in UCSF’s chapter of Students for a National Health Program. He modeled kindness and untiring commitment. The young health professionals who Jeff supported will carry on his memory as they fight for a more just health system.
– Clay Carter
When I began medical school, there were a few individuals who were essential to pulling me in to the single-payer movement. Apart from my student peers, Jeff was the one person who always showed up and enthusiastically pushed our advocacy agenda forward. He helped me understand just how important this movement is and why equitable health care is worth fighting for. He provided the spark that ignited single-payer advocacy at UCSF, and without him, I doubt we would have done all of the work that has occurred over the past few years. I am grateful to have known Jeff. He was a wonderful role model, a physician who never lost sight of what is truly important in health care.
– Jackson Runte
When I first came to California for medical school, Jeff was one of the first people I met. I was drowning in facts and PowerPoint slides from my medical school lectures and looking to find a community outside the UCSF library.
Jeff welcomed me into the PNHP family, giving me rides to the East Bay every month for chapter meetings. On those rides across the Oakland bridge, I learned about how Jeff got involved in the single-payer movement. Jeff would tell me about patients who delayed cancer treatment because they could not afford copayments or families who were bankrupted by medical bills despite having insurance. He told me about his journey into family medicine, how he met his wife while working at SFGH, and how he was known as the “disco doc” in medical school for his lovable personality and unmatched dance moves.
When I heard these stories, I felt saddened by how avoidable the patient suffering seemed to be. But Jeff inspired me and gave me hope. As activists, educators, and community organizers, PNHP physicians could stand up against the corporate greed and larger political forces which had enabled this suffering to occur. Plus, the Disco Doc was fun and charismatic!
Over the years, I became more involved with PNHP. I saw firsthand how committed Jeff was to his patients and to reforming the larger structures which made them ill. He would bring his laptop to PNHP meetings, writing notes and calling patients during breaks. He was always available to students. We texted often, chatting about how the UCSF chapter was going, or commenting on the new Chinese restaurant in the Sunset District. Jeff inspired us to organize Get out the Vote events, town halls with local officials, and other events to educate and engage students about single payer.
At a town hall we organized with local Assemblymember David Chiu, Jeff organized 50 PNHP members to attend. When the moderator asked how many individuals in the audience supported single payer, most of the room raised their hands. The conversation shifted from skepticism about single payer to a more honest discussion of its pros and cons. David Chiu agreed to meet with us again and, very slowly, I saw that we were doing a small part to change local perceptions about single payer. This was a highlight of my medical training, and was only possible because Jeff had invested countless hours mentoring my colleagues and me.
As I prepare to apply to residency, it’s hard to overstate the impact Jeff had on my life. I entered medical school in need of a role model and mentor. Jeff fought for what he believed in, gave everything for his students, and overcame personal health challenges in his final years. I know I have difficult years ahead: long hours, a political environment often hostile to health care reform, and mountains of soul-killing paperwork await all residents. I know I will hear similar stories that Jeff did. I will see patients who cannot afford treatment, patients who will suffer or die prematurely because of our broken health care system. There will be days when I will want to quit medicine entirely.
I hope I can face these circumstances with the bravery, grit, and empathy that Jeff always showed to his students and his patients. On days that I feel small and powerless to help my patients, I will take comfort in being part of a larger movement working to change these circumstances. I won’t despair. Instead I will find meaning in activism, forming personal connections with patients and community engagement. These are lessons and skills Jeff taught me, and I will carry them for the rest of my life.
– Chris Cai
I was lucky enough to meet Jeff early in my first year of medical school — he showed up on campus, eager to engage with students and willing to lend his support in any way. Jeff was a truly inspiring mentor to me and many of my classmates. I was continually inspired by Jeff’s willingness and eagerness to jump into the single-payer fight — he welcomed my classmates and me to join the monthly PNHP meetings, he accompanied us to meet our local state senator, and he encouraged us to have larger conversations within the UCSF community about these challenging topics. His desire to right injustices and inequities in health care continues to give me hope that in the not-so-distant future there will be a more equitable health system in the U.S. I hope to be as activist of a physician as Jeff was throughout his career and plan to look to him as a model as I progress throughout my training.
– Isabel Ostrer