Posted on: January 22, 2024
Bruce J. Hillman, MD, died on the morning of January 9, 2024. He was the former chair of the University of Virginia’s Department of Radiology and Medical Imaging and a renowned radiologist.
Dr. Hillman was born in 1947 and raised in Miami Beach, Florida, where his father managed the family’s small South Beach hotel. After his father’s early death, his mother returned to teaching, and Bruce took on a series of part-time and summer jobs that included bagging groceries at a local supermarket, providing janitorial services at a hotel pool, and grinding welds for a piping contractor. He attended Princeton University and received his medical degree from the University of Rochester. He then trained in radiology at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and Harvard Medical School where he spent an additional year as a National Institutes of Health research fellow, specializing in genitourinary radiology. During a 1984-85 sabbatical as a Pew fellow — which he credits with setting the course for the remainder of his career — he earned a certificate from the RAND/UCLA program in health services research and policy. Following this training, Dr. Hillman rose through the academic ranks at the University of Arizona, becoming professor and vice chair of radiology in 1985. In 1992, he was appointed chair of the Department of Radiology at the University of Virginia, serving in this capacity until 2003. As chair, Dr. Hillman played a key role in developing UVA’s first outpatient imaging center, and also oversaw the department’s transition from film-based imaging to a PACS system. He also served as president of the Health Services Foundation, the UVA physicians’ corporation.
Dr. Hillman also greatly influenced the broader medical landscape as an educator, researcher, and leader. He presented hundreds of talks that included more than 40 distinguished or named lectureships, and he authored more than 400 publications. He was the editor-in-chief of three peer-reviewed journals and was the founding editor for the Journal of the American College of Radiology and Academic Radiology. As a researcher, Dr. Hillman demonstrated that physician self-referral for diagnostic imaging was associated with higher utilization and costs: work which has helped to inform federal and state laws limiting self-referral. He also founded and chaired the American College of Radiology Imaging Network, a clinical trials cooperative group funded by the National Cancer Institute. During his almost 10 years of leadership, ACRIN oversaw $200 million in funding for research, including large clinical trials studying the role of screening imaging tests for lung, breast, and colon cancer, generating data and imaging care algorithms which have positively impacted the lives of many patients around the world.
Dr. Hillman served organized radiology in many volunteer leadership roles, including being the president of five different radiological societies and a member of the American College of Radiology Board of Chancellors for 19 years. He was elected an honorary fellow of the French Society of Radiology, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiology, and Royal College of Radiologists. Dr. Hillman was also awarded the Gold Medal by the Radiological Society of North America, Association of University Radiologists, Society of Uroradiology, and American College of Radiology; as well as being recognized by the ACR with its 2015 Luminary Leadership Award.
Aside from his more traditional contributions to the medical literature, Dr. Hillman published eight short stories in literary journals. His book, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: How Medical Imaging is Changing Health Care (2010), eloquently informed readers about the applications, politics, and economics of medical imaging and potential future developments in the imaging sciences. Dr. Hillman also published two works of creative nonfiction, including the well-reviewed book The Man Who Stalked Einstein — How Nazi Scientist Philipp Lenard Changed the Course of History (2015), and the 2016 Publisher’s Weekly starred book selection A Plague on All Our Houses: Medical Intrigue, Hollywood, and the Discovery of AIDS.
Even as a professor emeritus, Dr. Hillman remained engaged with UVA from his home in North Carolina. In all of these endeavors — from his service to radiology and medicine, to his creative work — Dr. Bruce Hillman will be remembered fondly for his expansive vision, brilliance and creativity. His drive to succeed and tenacity to achieve difficult things were traits that laid the foundation for his long and illustrious career. UVA’s Department of Radiology and Medical Imaging, the literary world, and the community of radiology are all better off due to Dr. Hillman.
(Read the original tribute here.)