September 29, 2017


SUBJECT:    Passing of former Chair of Radiology, Robert Norton Berk, MD

Robert N. Berk, MD, passed away at Jacob’s Medical Center on the morning of September 14, 2017, at the age of 87. Dr. Berk served as UCSD’s second Chair of Radiology from 1977-1985. He will be warmly remembered for his kindness, thoughtfulness, dedication, wide-ranging contributions to Radiology, outstanding mentorship and generous friendship. Please join us for his memorial service on November 18, 2017 at 1 pm at the Ida and Cecil Green Faculty Club, UCSD*.

Dr. Berk interned at St. John’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the same small hospital where he was born and where his father practiced as a surgeon and family physician. During his internship, Dr. Berk saw Radiology as a center of activity and diagnoses across the breadth of medicine, and for that reason chose Radiology as his specialty. He completed his residency at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston subsequent to serving in the Air Force for two years as a Captain and family physician.

In 1959, Dr. Berk returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh to accept a full-time faculty position at the University of Pittsburgh’s main teaching hospital, Presbyterian Hospital. There he met Elliott Lasser, MD, who at the time was the University of Pittsburgh’s department chair. Dr. Lasser would become a mentor, collaborator and lifelong friend to Dr. Berk, with their lifelong friendship lasting through six future decades. Dr. Lasser’s work with x-ray contrast materials sparked Berk’s own interest in the pathophysiology of contrast materials, particularly those associated with gallbladder imaging.

In 1968 Dr. Lasser was chosen to serve as chair in the newly opened University of California San Diego School of Medicine, and to form the radiology department. Dr. Lasser wanted the department to benefit from Dr. Berk’s extraordinary research, clinical and teaching acumen, and thus asked Dr. Berk to join him as a founding member of the department. Dr. Berk accepted Dr. Lasser’s offer and relocated with his family to La Jolla, California. At UC San Diego, Dr. Berk performed clinical work, taught residents, and made early and productive use of the department’s research opportunities while helping establish the new department. During his first five years at UC San Diego, Dr. Berk published 50 original reports, a chapter, and a Radiology textbook.

Dr. Berk moved to Dallas, Texas, in 1974 to serve as Radiology Chair at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s flagship Parkland Hospital, although UCSD always occupied a dear place in his heart. Three short years later, his friend and colleague Elliott Lasser stepped down as Chair at UC San Diego to focus on research, and Dr. Berk was chosen to take his place as the second chair of radiology at UCSD. Among his many achievements as Radiology Chair, Dr. Berk introduced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MR) to the department, including overcoming numerous financial and safety obstacles before receiving approval to construct a new dedicated building to safely house UC San Diego’s first MRI scanner.

In 1985, eight years after accepting the post, Dr. Berk stepped down as Chair, and accepted the position of Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Roentgenology (AJR), one of the cornerstone and highly admired scientific journals in radiology. Dr. Berk served as Editor-in-Chief through 1995 and considered this honor one of the highlights of his career. During his ten-year appointment at AJR, Dr. Berk incorporated technological advances that decreased editorial decision time by half while maintaining and furthering the journal’s well-established standards. Dr. Berk retired in 1995.

Dr. Berk received numerous accolades and honors throughout his career, including the Walter B. Cannon Medal, given by the Society of Gastrointestinal Radiology for “outstanding contributions to GI Radiology” in 1984. He served as President of the Society of Gastrointestinal Radiology and played key roles in several other radiological organizations. By the end of his career, Dr. Berk had published 116 papers, twenty-two chapters, and three books, and had delivered lectures in many countries.

Robert Norton Berk, MD, is survived by his children Daniel, Perry and Ellen; his grandchildren Adam, Aaron, Tammy, Michael, Emily, and Blythe; and his beloved wife Sondra Reidbord Berk, whom he celebrated in his memoir, “My Life with Sondra and My Career in Radiology: 1955-1995, A Memoir with Special Memorabilia,” Outskirts Press, v2.0 2017.

In honor of Dr. Berk, his family is creating a medical school scholarship fund. If you wish to donate to the fund, please follow the link:

Cards may be sent to the family at 3890 Nobel Drive #2002, La Jolla, CA 92122.

* Memorial location: A Google Maps search for Ida and Cecil Green Faculty Club, UCSD, will guide you directly to the building. The Google Maps address is listed by the find function as: 9500 Gilman Drive, MC 0121, La Jolla CA 92093.

David A. Brenner
Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences
Dean, School of Medicine

Alexander Norbash
Chair, Department of Radiology