Heroes in Proving the Value of Imaging: Part 1

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Heroes in Proving the Value of Imaging is an occasional series about advocates for the profession who are working to enhance radiology through research, governmental affairs, humanitarian efforts, and more. In Part 1, ImagingBiz speaks with academic leader Bruce Hillman, MD.

Bruce Hillman

The academicians best positioned to advance the science of imaging and help prove its value are those most willing to embrace, as research partners, specialists in fields outside radiology, according to Bruce Hillman MD, FACR, Theodore E. Keats professor of radiology and professor of public health sciences at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

“I enjoy what I do. Research presents me with great challenges—and I happen to love great challenges. Fortunately for me, the challenges inherent in this type of research often turn out to be the most interesting part of each project.”
—Bruce Hillman, MD

“Today, if you really want to make a major contribution to imaging’s knowledge base, your research needs to be conducted using a multidisciplinary approach,” Hillman says. “This is true whether your aim is basic laboratory research, clinical trials, or socioeconomic research.” In order to embark successfully on multidisciplinary research, however, “You must first possess investigatory skills equal to those possessed by your partners in those other disciplines,” Hillman says.

Other important attributes for researchers are an ability to think critically, solve problems, and write cogently, he adds. “All three of these skills come into play because one of the challenges of research, nowadays, is that you have to be able to communicate complex concepts fluently, so that your ideas and arguments are understandable by peers, colleagues, and even others outside the scientific community,” Hillman says.

Proud of His Roles

Communicating in lucid, persuasive terms has never been difficult for Hillman, editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American College of Radiology: JACR (a post that he accepted five years ago) and former editor-in-chief of Investigative Radiology and Academic Radiology. (Hillman helped launch both JACR and Academic Radiology.) Communication and clarity of thought have been Hillman hallmarks throughout the more than 1645 studies that he has written or cowritten for major medical publications.

There is little wonder, then, that Hillman was named RSNA 2007 Outstanding Researcher of the year, an award recognizing an individual who has made original and significant contributions to the field of radiology or radiologic sciences throughout a career of research. Hillman, a member of the ACR Board of Chancellors, also emerged as a recipient of the George C. Marshall Memorial Fund Fellowship and the John A. Hartford Foundation Fellowship. A Pew Memorial Trust Fellowship honoree, he is an honorary member of the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine.

When it comes to accomplishments, Hillman is most proud of the pivotal role that he played in transforming a small radiology research program at the University of Virginia into one of the nation’s more productive scientific investigatory units during his turn as chair of the radiology department there. He also helped start a number of other programs aimed at drawing fresh faces into imaging research, such as the Introduction to Research Program jointly sponsored by RSNA, the American Roentgen Ray Society, and the Association of University Radiologists (AUR); the Picker–AUR Young Faculty Academic Development Program; and the GE–AUR Radiology Research Academic Fund.

Important Legacy

Hillman’s name as a researcher is indelibly linked with numerous studies dealing with the issue of self-referral. Beginning in the early 1990s, he wrote a series of articles on that subject (which the New England Journal of Medicine and JAMA were among the most prominent publications to carry), and these were widely credited with favorably influencing changes in state and federal laws. His ultimate legacy in research, however, may well be his work in establishing the ACR Imaging Network (ACRIN), the clinical-trial cooperative group funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which he led for nine years.

“ACRIN provides us an infrastructure that enables our specialty to compete hard and effectively in the clinical research arena, with rigorous research, multicenter studies, and generalizable studies—some of which are influencing payment policies