Department History

The Department of Radiology has been characterized by enterprise, stability, and achievements.

Achievement came early, although unrecognized at the time. In 1890, five years before Roentgen announced his discovery of the rays that made the field of radiology possible, a University of Pennsylvania physics professor and a photographer inadvertently exposed two coins to a photographic plate and produced an x-ray. Not understanding the accident, however, they filed the film, only to recall it and realize what they had done when Roentgen's work became public.

Clearly, Penn was poised to take advantage of the new technology. The first x-rays (called "skiagraphs") were taken of extremities. By June of 1896, the chief of surgery used a skiagraph to locate a toy jack that a child had swallowed. Within months, several hospital departments were using roentgen rays for diagnosis, surgical planning, and follow-up.

Pepper Lab Skiagraph

Pepper Lab, Skiagraph

In 1898, Charles Lester Leonard, MD, was put in charge, effectively becoming the first chairman. Leonard was the first roentgenologist to use a skiagraph to identify kidney stones, and he made other advances, but at the price of his life. X-rays gave him burns and induced cancer, which claimed him in 1913.

Henry K. Pancoast, MD, was an anesthetist at the hospital when he succeeded Leonard in 1902. Eventually appointed the country's first professor of roentgenology, he gained national recognition for x-ray therapy, especially on inoperable cancer s, for examination of the gastrointestinal tract, and for the improvement of chest x-rays in occupational health.

Pancoast insisted on a staff of professional caliber. Early on, the department began to train residents, whose memoirs testify to the cooperative and educational atmosphere.

Henry K. Pancoast, MD Eugene P. Pendergrass, MD

Henry K. Pancoast, MD and
Eugene P. Pendergrass, MD

Under Eugene P. Pendergrass, MD, who succeeded Pancoast in 1939, radiology emerged from the Department of Surgery and became an independent department, increasing in size, expertise, and machines. The entire field was changed by the experience with atomic energy during World War II and afterward. Procedures were adjusted and equipment and space built to specifications that took cognizance of atomic power.

Fundamental research, booming in every biomedical area during the postwar years, became a departmental staple, especially in the investigation of radioisotopes. Nuclear medicine tapped the imagination and energy of David A. Kuhl, MD, who built his first scanner as a first-year medical student at Penn. During his residency here, in the 1960s, he conceived of and constructed a device that represented the first true computed axial tomographic imaging system. As a member of the faculty, Kuhl went on to develop the procedure known as single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and the principles of positron emission tomography (PET).

In their own postwar evolution, the programs for residents and fellows became more structures and substantial. Trainees had major responsibility for making decisions. Funding for fellows was begun. The department offered electives to medical students. Conferences often included advanced radiologists, so the level of review was impressive and enthusiasm high. Relations between radiologists and other HUP physicians were regularized, paving the way for interdepartmental exchanges and collaboration, a continuing feature of the department.

Richard H. Chamberlain, MD Stanley Baum, MD

Richard H. Chamberlain, MD
and Stanley Baum, MD

Richard H. Chamberlain, MD, succeeded Pendergrass as Chairman in 1960. Subspecialties grew; the Neuroradiology Section was the first in the country to perform all of a hospital's neuroradiological procedures. The resident training program was extended to four years.

In 1975, Stanley Baum, MD, one of the first vascular radiologists, became chairman. Diagnostic radiology was organized into sections. Radiation oncology, historically a departmental strength, was made a separate department.

R. Nick Bryan, MD, PhD

R. Nick Bryan, MD, PhD

R. Nick Bryan, MD, PhD, a neuroradiologist who pioneered applications of MR imaging to the nervous system, succeeded Dr. Baum in 1999. Under Dr. Bryan's stewardship, the Department has continued to evolve. Most recently, the Department has undertaken numerous, concurrent capital projects to upgrade the clinical and research infrastructure.

The University of Pennsylvania Department of Radiology has become an international leader in virtually all of the sections represented, as well as in techniques previously pioneered here. Among other major activities is a continuing medical education program attended by radiologists worldwide. The department currently performs more than 1,045,000 procedures annually: 319,000 of them at HUP, 83,000 at the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, 472,000 through our Community Radiology subsidiaries, and 171,000 at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

For some 15 years, the department has been one of the leaders in grant support from the National Institutes of Health. Our faculty contains not only distinguished basic scientists and clinicians, but also clinicians with peer-reviewed grants; indeed, we lead the country in the number of clinical radiologists who conduct research.

Most recently, the Department relocated to the ground floor of the new Raymond and Ruth Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, expanding its services, while still offering the best and latest in patient care. Within the approximately 40,000 square feet dedicated to radiology in the Center, services will include cutting-edge, fully digital, multimodal technological resources, including:

  • 7 digital mammography units
  • 3 breast procedure rooms
  • 5 MRIs
  • 3 CTs
  • 5 digital radiography units
  • 2 GI/GU fluoroscopy suites
  • 3 interventional radiology suites
  • 2 cardiac stress rooms

All of the diagnostic radiology services will be supported by the latest informatics and PACS capabilities. This technology is just one part of the Radiology Department's commitment to offer the best care – and technology – for patients. The Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine will likely provide new opportunities for medical advancement in radiology and beyond.