Philip Palmer, founding faculty member of UC Davis ...
NEWS | January 11, 2013

Philip Palmer, founding faculty member of UC Davis medical school, internationally known advocate of broad access to radiology, dies at 91


Dr. Philip E.S. Palmer, emeritus professor of radiology and the first director of diagnostic radiology at the UC Davis School of Medicine, died on Jan. 3. He was 91 years old.

Dr. Palmer’s career was defined by his passionate dedication to sharing the benefits of radiology with all who need it, regardless of where they live. This belief led Dr. Palmer to spend many years of his career in Africa in pursuit of his desire to ensure that populations of the developing world have access to the benefits of radiology.

Philip Palmer
Dr. Philip E.S. Palmer

Born in London, England, on April 26, 1921, the son and grandson of physicians, Dr. Palmer moved with his family to Hayle, West Cornwall, at the age of 7. He went to boarding school in Penzance and won a 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.

After graduating in 1939, Dr. Palmer 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 London air raids. He won the class prize in surgery in 1943, graduated in April 1944 and became a house surgeon at the Westminster.

In June 1944, shortly before the D-Day Normandy invasion, Dr. Palmer was sent to Portsmouth for two months as an anesthetist 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, 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) in the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in General Medicine. He passed his U.S. National Boards in Medicine on 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, Dr. 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, Dr. Palmer had to choose between general practice and radiology, opting for the latter.

In 1954, Dr. Palmer 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 the country 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, Dr. Palmer served on two committees of the International Union for Cancer Research: Haemangiosarcoma of Kaposi and Cancer of the Alimentary Tract in Africa.

In 1960, Dr. Palmer delivered 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 stated that he had significantly improved the standard of medical practice in Matabeleland.

In 1964, Dr. Palmer became chair of the Department of Radiology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Over 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 U.K. and the U.S.

In 1968, Dr. Palmer 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, University of Toronto, Canada.

In 1970, Dr. Palmer was appointed as the first professor of diagnostic radiology at the then-new UC Davis School of Medicine, and director of diagnostic radiology at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where he remained until his retirement in 1990.

During his career, Dr. Palmer 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 received the Roentgen Medal of the German Radiological Society, and in 1994 the Presidential Award of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

In 1994, Dr. Palmer served as 2nd 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.

Dr. Palmer 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 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 Dr. Palmer 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, Dr. Palmer was a consultant and advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland and to its regional offices. He chaired and participated on 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 that 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 has more than 40,000 copies.

Dr. Palmer focused much of his research 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.

Dr. Palmer viewed himself first and foremost as 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 the chest radiographs of the world's first heart transplant, which had taken place in Cape Town in 1967. This contrasted sharply from his wartime years in London, where he delivered babies in the farms of his rural practice in England, as well as his years serving very remote hospitals in Africa.

Dr Palmer was predeceased by Pauline, his first wife of 21 years. He is survived by Miep, his second wife of 44 years; a daughter, Alison; a son, Robin; three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. In accordance with his wishes, no services will be held.

The UC Davis School of Medicine is among the nation's leading medical schools, recognized for its research and primary-care programs. The school offers fully accredited master's degree programs in public health and in informatics, and its combined M.D.-Ph.D. program is training the next generation of physician-scientists to conduct high-impact research and translate discoveries into better clinical care. Along with being a recognized leader in medical research, the school is committed to serving underserved communities and advancing rural health. For more information, visit UC Davis School of Medicine at