Profile: Wil Gesler

Wil Gesler, Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA. Wil’s major research interest is health care delivery, but he has made significant contributions to cultural geography, Africa, social theory (structuralism, humanism, and postmodernism), and quantitative and qualitative methods. Wil was co-chair of the MGSG from 1986 to 1989.

Wil Gesler’s bachelor’s degree was in mathematics. He then went to Pennsylvania State University, where he earned a master’s degrees in math. He then picked up a second MA in English literature from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He decided to work on a Ph.D. in population studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, but he was soon attracted to medical geography through a conference on the topic led by John Hunter, a seminar on the topic, and courses at the school of public health. Following his graduation in 1978, Wil was hired to teach in the Geography Department at Rutgers University for three years. He then went to the University of Sierra Leone in Freetown on a Fulbright Scholarship. Upon returning, he was hired by the Geography Department at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he taught until his retirement in 2003.

In his early days at UNC, Wil focused his research and writing on health care delivery in Africa and the US, with a strong emphasis on spatial analysis and quantitative methods. This was reflected in his contributions to the widely adopted textbook, Medical Geography (with Melinda Meade and John Florin, 1988). In the 1990s, he initiated two major research projects: Geographic Accessibility of Health Care in Rural Areas, funded by the Agency for Health Care policy and Research, and Type II Diabetes: Ethnic Variation in Knowledge and Beliefs, funded by the National Institutes of Nursing.

Over the years, Wil began to be fascinated by new theoretical concerns in structural, humanistic and post modern geography, and how these could be applied to the geography of health. He explored the use of qualitative research methods such as semi-structured interviews and participant observation. He developed the concept of therapeutic landscapes and applied it to three places with reputations for healing — Epidauros in Greece, Bath in England, and Lourdes in France. The concept has caught on and influenced the work of a number of health geographers.

Wil is author, coauthor, or editor of eleven books, most recently Healing Places (2003) and Culture/Health/Place (with Robin Kearns, 2002). His name appears on twenty-two book chapters and over sixty-five journal articles in twenty-six journals. Current research includes initiating an NSF grant proposal with three colleagues at UNC to study Latino Health in the Triangle Region of North Carolina, and he has begun work with several colleagues at Durham University (UK) on hospital design projects. Wil was Director of Graduate Studies in the Geography Department at UNC for nine years, and has been on the editorial boards of Social Science and Medicine, Health and Place, and Complementary Health Practice Review. He was George J. Kane Distinguished Professor at UNC from 1994-1997.

Wil may be contacted at

Updated: January 2009