Robert S. Mendelsohn

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Original photo by Bob Miller, Seattle Post Intelligencer Oct. 28, 1980

Robert S. Mendelsohn (1926 – 1988) was an American pediatrician and critic of medical paternalism. He denounced unnecessary and radical surgical procedures and dangerous medications, reminding his readers of public health failures such as the 1976 swine flu vaccine fiasco and the damage caused to daughters of women who took the drug Diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy.[1] He portrayed doctors as powerful priests of a primitive religion, with dishonesty as its central ethic. His mild manner appealed to the public, while his message infuriated his medical colleagues.[2]

Mendelsohn wrote a syndicated newspaper column called The People's Doctor, and also produced a newsletter with the same name (the newsletter continued after his death until 1992, under the name The Doctor's People.[3]) He published five books, including Confessions of a Medical Heretic,[4] Mal(e) Practice: How Doctors Manipulate Women,[5] and How to Raise a Healthy Child…In Spite of Your Doctor. He appeared on over 500 television and radio talk shows.

Education and career[edit]

Mendelsohn received his medical degree from the University of Chicago in 1951. He was certified by the American Board of Pediatrics.[6] Dr. Mendelsohn had a full-time private pediatric practice from 1956 to 1967, and continued to see patients of all ages on a consultancy basis until his death in 1988.

For 12 years, Mendelsohn was an instructor at Northwestern University Medical College, and was associate professor of pediatrics and community health and preventive medicine at the [University of Illinois] College of Medicine for another 12 years.

Mendelsohn served as National Director of Project Head Start's Medical Consultation Service, a position he was later forced to resign after criticizing the “deadening atmosphere” of regular public schools.[7] He served as Chairman of the Medical Licensing Committee of Illinois.[3] He was president of the alternative medicine National Health Federation (NHF) between 1981 and 1982.

Criticism of medicine[edit]

Mendelsohn said that the greatest danger to American women's health was often their own doctors, and contended that chauvinistic physicians subjected female patients to degrading, unnecessary and often dangerous medical procedures. Cancer treatments like hysterectomy and radical mastectomy, according to Mendelsohn, were among the most indiscriminately recommended surgical procedures.[5]

In an era in which the side effects of medications and the risks of medical treatments were hardly known except to doctors, Dr. Mendelsohn insisted that patients, too, had the right to such information. In the first of his books to attract widespread publicity, Confessions of a Medical Heretic (Contemporary Books 1979), he describes his efforts to make the Physician's Desk Reference, the authoritative guide to medications and medical treatments, available to the public.

“The PDR is the beginning of knowledge about drugs. Although it’s easily available now, up until about two years ago the publisher refused to distribute it to other than members of the medical profession. I wasn’t aware of this when I gave the PDR many plugs in my column and newsletter. Finally, I got a letter from the publisher telling me to please stop referring people to their book since they distributed it only to professionals. They felt that the public wouldn’t understand the PDR and would be confused by it. Well, I published that letter in my column and I commented that it was the first time in history a publisher didn’t want to sell his books. . .” (Confessions of a Medical Heretic, p. 40)

In Confessions, Mendelsohn argued that the methods of modern medicine were often more dangerous than the diseases they were designed to diagnose and treat. He advised consumers to be suspicious of their doctors. “One of the unwritten rules in Modern Medicine is always to write a prescription for a new drug quickly, before all its side effects have come to the surface.” (Confessions of a Medical Heretic, p. 32)


He died April 5, 1988 at his home in Evanston, Illinois.[8][9]


  • 1982, Male Practice: How Doctors Manipulate Women, ISBN 0-8092-5721-1
  • 1987, How To Raise a Healthy Child In Spite of Your Doctor, NTC/Contemporary Publishing Company, ISBN 0-8092-4995-2
  • 1991, Confessions of a Medical Heretic, ISBN 0-8092-7726-3 (This book was first published in 1979)
  • 1985, Dissent in Medicine…Nine Doctors Speak Out, Contemporary Books, Inc.
  • 1988, But Doctor, About That Shot: The Risks of Immunizations and How to Avoid Them, by Robert S. Mendelsohn, M.D., edited by Vera Chatz and published by The People's Doctor, Inc.
  • The People’s Doctor Newsletter - published monthly from 1980 to 1988.


  1. ^ Martin, Frances (January 30, 1980). "People in Print: Robert S. Mendelsohn, M.D., F.A.A.P. - Confessions of a Medical Heretic - The People's Doctor". Diagnostic Medicine. Retrieved 2017-02-22. 
  2. ^ Murray, Walt (January 21, 1983). "A medical Mort Sahl". Long Beach Press-Telegram. Retrieved 2017-02-22. 
  3. ^ a b Eric Zorn, "Medical Pioneer`s Torch Flickers Out", Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1992.
  4. ^ Howard Wolinsky, Leon Pitt, "Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn, 61, Evanston author, columnist", Chicago Sun-Times, April 6, 1988  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required).
  5. ^ a b Barbara Kleban Mills, "An Outspoken Physician Says the Biggest Threat to a Woman's Health Is Her Own Doctor", People, September 7, 1981.
  6. ^ "Robert S. Mendelsohn American Board of Pediatrics Pediatric License - The People's Doctor". The People's Doctor. Retrieved 2017-02-22. 
  7. ^ Times, Special To The New York (1969-03-26). "Head Start Doctor Is Dismissed After Testifying; Aide at Pediatrics Academy Asked Resignation Over Criticism of Schools". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-02-22. 
  8. ^ "Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn, Medical Critic, 61", Associated Press in The New York Times, April 16, 1988
  9. ^ John Van, "Medical Maverick Robert Mendelsohn", Chicago Tribune, April 6, 1988.

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