Philip E.S. Palmer

By From page A6 | January 13, 2013

1921 — 2013

Philip Palmer, Emeritus Professor of Radiology and the first Director of Diagnostic Radiology in the School of Medicine at Davis, died Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. He was 91.

Born in London in April 1921, the son and grandson of physicians, Philip moved with his family to Hayle, West Cornwall, at the age of 7. He went to boarding school in Penzance and won an Exhibition (scholarship) to Kelly College in Tavistock, Devon, where he won 10 academic prizes, served as Head Boy of the school, and was an outstanding athlete.

He graduated in 1939 and began his medical studies at London University (Westminster Hospital) soon after the start of World War II. He served as a stretcher-bearer and ambulance driver for the London Ambulance Service during the air raids. He won the class prize in surgery in 1943, graduated MB.BS (London) in April 1944 and became a house-surgeon at the Westminster.

In June 1944, shortly before the Normandy invasion, Philip was sent to Portsmouth for two months as anaesthetist to one of the surgical units dealing with casualties from Normandy. This led to his first published article, as joint author of a report in the Westminster Hospital Gazette on the treatment of battle casualties from Normandy. He became the Westminster Hospital’s senior medical officer, later Registrar and first surgical assistant in the Radiotherapy Department, leading to his qualifications in radiation therapy from the London Royal Colleges and in medical radiology from the University of London.

His later degrees included the Fellowship of the Royal College of Radiologists of London and Membership (later elected Fellow) of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in General Medicine. He surprised himself by passing his US National Boards in Medicine at his first attempt in 1976. In 2004 he was awarded the M.D. (honoris causae) by the University of Turgu Mures in Romania.

In 1946 Philip Palmer joined his father in a large rural general practice in Cornwall. In addition, in 1947 he was appointed Consultant Radiologist at the West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance and later at the Falmouth Hospital and other local hospitals, providing a service where none had previously existed. In 1948, with the establishment of the British National Health Service, Philip had to choose between general practice and radiology, opting for the latter.

In 1954 Philip emigrated with his family to Bulawayo, Matabeleland, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), a move he never regretted. There he introduced new techniques in diagnostic radiology, including neuroradiology and angiography, and also returned to radiotherapy, using X-rays and radium to treat cancer patients of all ages and all races. He developed the rural X-ray services over the southern half of Rhodesia.

When he left in 1964 the number of X-ray units in small hospitals had increased from 10 to 33 and his department at the Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo was recognized by the UK Journal of the Society of Radiographers as an outstanding radiology department. During these years Philip served on two committees of the International Union for Cancer Research: Haemangiosarcoma of Kaposi and Cancer of the Alimentary Tract in Africa.

In 1960 he gave a Jubilee Lecture at the South African Institute of Medical Research and received a lifetime appointment as an honorary consultant. In 1962 he organized the first international conference of radiology in sub-Saharan Africa. When he left Rhodesia, the Central African Journal of Medicine recorded that he had significantly improved the standard of medical practice in Matabeleland.

In 1964 Philip became Chair of the Department of Radiology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. In the next four years he reorganized and re-equipped the radiology departments of the University’s three major hospitals, revised the postgraduate radiology training program, acted as examiner for the radiology degrees at three universities and became known internationally as an invited speaker in the UK and the USA.

In 1968 Philip became Professor of Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Hospital in Philadelphia. He also became a regular lecturer at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C., and in 1969 gave the inaugural address at the Holmes Society at the University of Toronto.

In 1970 Philip moved to California as the first Professor of Diagnostic Radiology at the new School of Medicine at UC Davis and Director of Diagnostic Radiology at the University Medical Center in Sacramento, where he remained until his retirement.

During his career Philip received many awards and gave many named lectures. In 1968 he gave the Honeyman-Gillespie Lecture at the University of Edinburgh and in 1973 the Henry Garland Lecture of the California Radiological Society. In 1993 he was awarded the Roentgen Medal of the German Radiological Society and in 1994 the Presidential Award of the Radiological Society of North America. In 1994 he served as second vice-president of RSNA. He received the first Beclere Medal and gave the first Beclere Lecture of the International Society of Radiology in China in 1996.

Philip received the Clinical Teaching Award of the UC Davis School of Medicine in 1982 and a teaching award from the Department of Medicine in 1987. He was a founding member of the International Skeletal Society, a member of the British Institute of Radiology and the British Medical Association, an Honorary Fellow or member of the radiological societies of West Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Romania and the then Yugoslavia Society of Ultrasound.

The teaching library of the University of Nairobi Radiology Department was dedicated to him. In 2006 the Romanian radiological journal Imagistica Radiologica devoted a complete volume to a report Philip wrote on behalf of the World Health Organization for the Romanian Minister of Health in 1990. This report shaped the redevelopment of radiology in Romania. In 2003 the international journal “Diagnostic Imaging” recognized him as the first of the “Four Most Influential Teachers in Global Radiology”. 

For 30 years Philip was a consultant and advisor to the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland and to its Regional Offices. He chaired and participated in 12 WHO international committees and on behalf of WHO visited and wrote advisory reports on the radiological services and needs of different countries around the world. For WHO he wrote or was co-author of five diagnostic imaging manuals which were translated into several languages.

Nearly 100,000 copies of these manuals have been printed. “The Manual of Ultrasound” alone is in 14 languages and over 40,000 copies. Much of his research was on the design and development of radiology equipment and departments to bring high-quality diagnostic imaging to the developing world. He authored more than 200 professional articles.

Philip Palmer was first and foremost a clinical radiologist and was happiest working with physicians and their patients as well as teaching medical students, residents, technologists and nurses. At ease with large audiences, he enjoyed even more reviewing with physicians the individual studies of their patients.

In addition to the usual, formal surroundings, he remembered teaching in a thatched, open-sided meeting hall in the Pacific islands and, while in Italy, hesitantly trying to explain in French to a group of French radiologists his chest radiographs of the world’s first heart transplant, which had taken place in Cape Town in 1967. This was all very different from his first wartime years in London, from delivering babies in the farms of the rural practice in England, and from driving on bad roads to very remote hospitals in Africa.

He was predeceased by Pauline, his first wife of 21 years, and is survived by Miep, his second wife of 44 years; his daughter Alison; son Robin; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

In accordance with his wishes, no services will be held.

Special to The Enterprise

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