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  • Part 13: Years of Transition

  • In 1971, Adele Swenson, the newly hired RSNA executive director, worked closely with Marguerite Henry, the retiring executive director, to provide for a gradual change in office. New RSNA President Reynold F. Brown, M.D., along with Secretary Maurice D. Frazer, M.D., and other RSNA leaders, were turning their attention to the Scientific Assembly and whether it should be moved out of Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel when tragedy struck. Herbert M. Stauffer, M.D., the RSNA president-elect, unexpectedly died.1 The Society was saddened by this loss and faced with a leadership vacuum at the completion of Dr. Brown’s term as president.

    New Leadership Structure Considered 

    Consequently, Dr. Frazer agreed to relinquish his position as RSNA secretary to become president in 1972. A young radiologist from Rochester, Minn., named Hillier L. Baker Jr., M.D., was named to replace Dr. Frazer as secretary. At this time, RSNA leaders began to realize that the hierarchical organization of the Society, based partially on bylaws developed during the days of the Western Roentgen Society, was becoming unwieldy for the latter quarter of the 20th century. Over the decades, Donald S. Childs, M.D., and Dr. Frazer had made the position of secretary nearly as strong, and periodically stronger, than that of the Society president. Many RSNA leaders began to openly discuss the possibility of revamping the organization and responsibilities of the Executive Committee to better serve the Society members, now numbering nearly 7,000.

    RSNA Asks AHA to Assess Annual Meeting 

    The 1971 Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting was another cramped gathering in the Palmer House. Attendees and exhibitors were becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of space. By 1972, Dr. Frazer, Dr. Baker and Swenson were determined to make changes to the annual meeting knowing that it had to remain a vital educational offering for radiologists. They contacted the head of the American Hospital Association (AHA), which had been organizing a large annual meeting of its own for many years. RSNA leaders wanted the AHA meeting department director to observe the 1972 RSNA Scientific Assembly to recommend the best course regarding a change in meeting venue.

    Facelift for Radiology 

    Swenson also turned her attention to Radiology. With Dr. Frazer’s approval, she recommended design changes for the publication, which had featured the same type fonts and page layouts for years. She also believed manuscripts considered for publication in Radiology should not only undergo a scientific review but also an editorial review for grammar and writing quality. Swenson subsequently developed an RSNA editorial division. She rented office space in Detroit near Henry Ford Hospital where Editor William R. Eyler, M.D., served as chairman of the Department of Radiology. She also hired office assistants with knowledge in the rules of scientific writing and English grammar to review all copy before it was sent to Mack Printing in Easton, Pa., which had been printing Radiology for the past 40 years. Swenson also envisioned publication of a five-year cumulative Radiology index, published each year and based on the terms Dr. Eyler first began using in 1970 to organize articles.

    To make publication in Radiology less economically burdensome to the authors, she proposed a policy of not charging physicians if color was needed to add to the scientific merit of their articles and of giving the authors free reprints. In addition, she believed the program for the annual meeting should be an additional issue of Radiology. Finally, she proposed advertising policies that would bring in more revenue to RSNA. By the end of the 1970s, all of her recommendations had been implemented.

    Meanwhile, Dr. Eyler continued to reorganize the content of the journal to reflect the growth of the field. He settled on an article arrangement divided into seven categories: diagnostic radiology, neuroradiology, nuclear medicine, pediatric radiology, ultrasound, therapeutic radiology and radiation physics. He also began publishing preliminary reports showing that magnetic resonance technology could be used as a diagnostic tool.

    Development of an RSNA Staff 

    As administrative responsibilities increased, Swenson began surrounding herself with a few hard-working office assistants at the Society’s Syracuse headquarters. This group became the RSNA staff on whom Society leaders depended to carry out policies related to the continuing education of radiologists and allied scientists.

    At that time, some radiologists believed greater attention should be focused on research. They thought that if a research base was neglected, radiology would become simply a service specialty with graduate-training programs. But other radiologists did not see a need for greater research support when new advances in radiology continued to be introduced. For example, the February 1972 issue of Radiology featured a paper by Charles Dotter, M.D., that described selective arterial embolization as a method to control gastrointestinal bleeding. This was the beginning of the establishment of another subspecialty, interventional radiology, which combined the acumen of diagnostic radiology with surgical skills.

    CT Unveiled 

    Many meeting attendees expected the 1972 Scientific Assembly at the Palmer House to be another frustrating affair during which attendees, instructors, paper presenters and exhibitors had to deal with inadequate space. However, the meeting became one of the most important in the history of radiology because it included the display of a new piece of equipment called a computed axial tomographic scanner, or CAT scanner. More accurately referred to as "CT" by radiologists, this scanner was on an upper floor in one of the Palmer House rooms usually reserved for salesmen to display their wares. Radiologists jostled each other in the elevators and were nearly forced to elbow each other aside to check out this new contraption.

    CT had been developed by Godfrey Hounsfield, D.Sc. of London. It greatly enhanced the effectiveness of old two-dimensional x-ray units. Because conventional radiographs viewed the body from one angle, shadows of bones and organs could be superimposed on one another. With CT, radiologists could view a "slice" of the body. By rotating the x-ray tubes around the body, several sectional views could be obtained. A computer could then reconstruct the views by using mathematical formulas called algorithms to create a three-dimensional-like image that was easier to interpret.

    The CT scanner on display at the 1972 RSNA meeting was designed for head imaging. It was manufactured by the EMI company, which was better known as the organization that recorded the songs of the Beatles in the 1960s. This subsequently led to confusion among non-radiologists who thought the famous rock band from Liverpool had something to do with the development of CT.

    More important to radiologists, however, was the realization that computer use would lead to more complicated but improved diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. A few months later, Popular Electronics featured an article describing the first "personal" computer, an Altair 8800, which ran on a BASIC program interpreter written by a teenager named Bill Gates. RSNA leaders soon recognized that if CT was a sign of the future of radiology, radiologists would have to become more computer savvy.

    Reference 

    1. Baker HL Jr. Personal communication. Aug 1994.
    Hillier L. Baker Jr., M.D. RSNA President 1980