Richard M. Heller, M.D. is currently Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences and Professor of Pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. After coming to Vanderbilt in 1975 to found the Department of Pediatric Radiology, he also served as Program Director of the Radiology Residency Program for 20 years from 1975-1995 before becoming Program Director of the Pediatric Radiology Fellowship, a position he has held for over 15 years since 1995. He has dedicated so much of his professional life to teaching and heading the residency program in our department that it is our privilege to honor Dr. Heller’s love and devotion to education with this lectureship. His enduring wish is that this lecture continues to educate others in the specialty of pediatric radiology for years to come.
Dr. Heller graduated from Carleton College in 1959 and obtained his medical degree from Northwestern Medical School in 1963. While a junior in medical school he took an elective in Copenhagen, Denmark on the Danish approach to medicine. This experience led to a lifelong connection with Denmark, which remains strong today. After his one year internship at the University of Minnesota Hospital, he joined the United States Air Force and became Captain at the Outpatient Department in USAF Hospital, Izmir, Turkey. When he returned in 1966, Heller began his residency in radiology at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital. He then was both a Research Associate in Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Senior Resident in Pediatric Radiology at Children’s Hospital, Boston from 1969 to 1970. Heller then stayed on to join the faculty of John Hopkins and became Assistant Professor of Radiology and of Pediatrics.
Five years later in 1975, Dr. Heller came to Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and founded the Department of Pediatric Radiology. He became its director as well as the Program Director for the Radiology Residency Program. In 1981, Heller was appointed Honorary Royal Danish Consul in Tennessee, a position he has now held for 26 years. He became section chief of Pediatric Radiology in 1991 and remained so until 2003. In 1992, he became a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and a year later became a member of the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. And in 1990, he was given the honor of Knight, Chevalier Class Royal Order of Dannebrog, by Her Majesty Queen Margrethe of Denmark and elevated to Knight, First Class in 1999.
Dr. Heller was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics in 1999. He has co-authored over 100 articles and six textbooks as well as serving as an expert witness and lecturer on child abuse. When Dr. Heller retired as the Director of Pediatric Radiology in 2003, the previous chair of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, Dr. Martin Sandler, spoke of Dr. Heller’s contributions.
“I think Dr. Heller has made an outstanding contribution to the Medical Center in many different facets. He started pediatric radiology in the department, was one of the initiators of the radiology residency program, was key in the recruitment and training of the residency program and has contributed to the academic well-being of the department,” Sandler said. “He has been a major force in radiology for the past 25 years at Vanderbilt, as well as nationally and internationally.”
Throughout his long, distinguished career Dr. Heller has, and continues, to impact countless medical students and residents and has initiated so many of our trainees in their successful career paths. So in 2009, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital named the Heller Education Center Classroom (VCH 1503) in his honor. The classroom was funded by 125 young physicians trained by Dr. Heller, and by his colleagues. This was a fitting tribute because when the Department of Diagnostic Imaging at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt was designed, Dr. Heller was instrumental in the plan of a central classroom for resident and medical student education. This classroom is in daily use and contains the pediatric teaching files that residents and medical students still use each day.
While Dr. Heller has retired from his position as section chief of Pediatric Radiology and director of the Residency Program, he continues to serve as Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences and of Pediatrics and remains as Director of the Vanderbilt Pediatric Radiology fellowship program. He maintains his pursuit and commitment of spending a great deal of his time in the pursuit of excellence in teaching that is when he’s not spending time with his wonderful family. His wife, Toni, is a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School. His daughter is an attorney in Nashville and his son followed in his footsteps as a Pediatric Radiologist in Chicago. He has two grandchildren, Richard IV and Julian.