Overview and History

In 1890, five years before German physics professor Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen announced his discovery of the rays that made the field of radiology possible, a University of Pennsylvania physics professor and a photographer inadvertently exposed two coins to a photographic plate and produced an X-ray. Not understanding the accident, they filed the film, only to recall it and realize what they had done when Roentgen's work at the Physical Institute of the University of Wurzburg became public in 1895.

The University of Pennsylvania was poised to take advantage of this new technology. The first X-rays (called “skiagraphs”) were taken of extremities. By June of 1896, the Chief of Surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) used a skiagraph to locate a toy jack that a child had swallowed. Within months, several HUP departments were using roentgen rays for diagnosis, surgical planning, and follow-up. In 1898, the School appointed the first Instructor of Skiagraphy, Charles Lester Leonard.

Henry K. Pancoast, M.D. became the first Professor of Roentgenology in the United States in the Department of Surgery at HUP in 1912. The same year, Dr. Pancoast was named President of the American Roentgen Ray Society. In 1919, he was named President of the American Radium Society and subsequently elected President of the American College of Radiology in 1933, and the first President of the newly forming American Board of Radiology in 1934. Dr. Pancoast was a pioneer in using x-rays to treat leukemia and Hodgkin's disease and helped lead Philadelphia medicine and American radiology for four decades until his death in 1939.

In 1939, Radiology was established as an independent department of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, emerging from the Department of Surgery.   The Department of Radiation Oncology was established in 1977, as an outgrowth of the Departments of Surgery and Radiology, successively. Dr. Stanley Baum, who was appointed the fifth chair of Radiology in 1975, noted the national movement toward the separation of diagnostic and therapeutic radiology and proposed to separate radiation therapy into a new, independent department. In 1977, Dr. Robert Goodman was recruited from Boston to become the first chair of the new Department of Radiation Oncology. During his tenure as chair, Dr. Goodman was the National President of the Society of Chairmen of Academic Radiation Oncology Programs. Also under his leadership, HUP became the first hospital in the Delaware Valley to offer breast conserving surgery with adjuvant radiation therapy and to investigate radio- and chemoprotectors. Dr. W. Gillies McKenna followed as department chair in 1991.

Under Dr. McKenna's leadership, the Department of Radiation Oncology greatly expanded its missions of education, research and clinical services. From 1991 to 2004, the Department grew from eight to over thirty five full-time faculty. The Department of Radiation Oncology (combined with the Department of Radiology) became ranked first in its specialty in NIH research awards in all but one year of Dr. McKenna's tenure as department chair. 

Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. was appointed as Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology in 2005. He had served as the Vice Chair and Director of Research, under the previous departmental administration. Dr. Hahn brought outstanding credentials as clinician, investigator and educator when he first joined the faculty in 1996, after having served as Senior Investigator at the National Cancer Institute.  Dr. Hahn's training included internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, where he served as Chief Resident, medical oncology fellowship and radiation oncology residency at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), together enabling him to lead the Department in bridging multiple cancer treatment discplines..

In July, 2015, Dr. James Metz was named as the fourth official Chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology. Dr. Metz led the development and commissioning of the Roberts Proton Therapy Center and through his collaborative and inclusive leadership style, helped to establish it as one of the premier proton therapy centers in the world. Dr. Metz also pioneered the use of online cancer survivorship care plans and web based cancer education as the longtime editor in chief and now Executive Director of OncoLink, the award-winning online source for cancer information.

The following individuals have served as chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine:

  • Robert L. Goodman, M.D., 1977-1990
  • Morton Kligerman, M.D. (acting), 1990-1991
  • William Gillies McKenna, M.D., Ph.D., 1991-2005
  • Eli Glatstein, M.D. (acting), 2005
  • Stephen M. Hahn, M.D., 2005-2014
  • James M. Metz, M.D,  2015 - present