Robert Hess named 2021 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award

by Pete Hudack September 20, 2021

Robert “Bob” Hess ’73, RDMS, BS, former program director for PA College’s Diagnostic Medical Sonography program, has been named the 2021 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award.

When Bob first enrolled at Elizabethtown College, he was a pre-med major. He made the switch and ultimately ended up earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. After working as a computer programmer for six months, he was drafted. Registered as a conscientious objector, he entered alternative service and his assignment took him to a small, inner-city hospital in the west side of Chicago (Bethany Brethren). He worked in the x-ray department as an orderly. In his second year, Bethany Brethren Hospital merged with a larger Garfield Hospital. Bob started working extra shifts on weekends in the ER of that facility. “In the Emergency Room, I saw and experienced many things that I had never seen before. I learned what it meant to live in a poor section of a big city,” he said.

In 1971, he went back to school, enrolling in the Radiologic Technology program at LGH. Halfway through the program, he was pulled aside and asked if he wanted to start a brand new diagnostic imaging service using high frequency sound waves.

After graduating from the RT program in August, 1973, Bob was hired as an ultrasound technologist. In September, he and Dr. William Young, the radiologist who was the head of the ultrasound service, traveled to Philadelphia together to attend the first ultrasound training program offered in eastern Pennsylvania. At the same time, Lancaster General had purchased and installed a new ultrasound unit within the Radiology Department. When Bob and Dr. Young returned to Lancaster, they started the diagnostic ultrasound imaging service within the Radiology Department. During the first month, all of the sonograms were performed at no charge, while the team learned to use the new equipment and interpret the images. With the new ultrasound equipment, Bob produced images of cross-sectional anatomy, which at that time was a new concept in the Radiology Department. The sonographic images were stored on Polaroid film or on sheets of heat-sensitive paper.

By 1975, ultrasound technology had developed even further. LGH purchased its first real-time ultrasound unit. With this technology, the examiner could see anatomical structures move on the screen. For example, Bob could watch the fetal heart beating. Real-time imaging was included in most OB sonograms from that time on.

Also in 1975, Bob attended his first meeting of the American Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. At that meeting, he was one of 200 candidates to take the first registry exams offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). Bob became a registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. According to ARDMS, over 90,000 individuals have taken these exams since then.

In 1976, LGH bought its first grayscale ultrasound unit which produced images with 16 shades of gray. “This was a significant improvement in image quality compared to earlier sonograms. Also, the sonographic images were recorded on x-ray film,” Bob said.

In the early 1980s, the demand for ultrasound imaging services started to increase substantially, and, it was difficult to attract enough skilled sonographers to work at the hospital. At the end of 1981, LGH made the decision to start a training program. “My colleagues and I developed the curriculum from scratch. The School of Diagnostic Medical Sonography at Lancaster General Hospital began in September 1982. Two Radiologic Technologists were our first students and they graduated at the end of August the following year. I know that at least one of those students, Mary (Miller) Finley, is still employed as a sonographer,” Bob said.

In 1982, the hospital purchased its first Doppler ultrasound unit. “With Doppler imaging, we could see a blood vessel in cross-section (for example, the carotid artery) and at the same time, we could determine what direction the blood was flowing through the vessel. We could also calculate how fast the blood was flowing. With this information, we could determine if the vessel was significantly obstructed,” Bob said.

Over the next 10-12 years, the ultrasound section was very busy. The number of staff sonographers had increased. However, the demands on our team were intense: “In addition to performing routine sonograms, we were learning new procedures, performing stat outpatient exams, stat inpatient exams, stat exams from the ER, and we were teaching students in the classroom and training them to perform sonograms in the clinical area. The team of staff sonographers was also on call after 5:00 p.m. on weekdays and we were on call over the entire weekend. (We were frequently called back.) There was a period of time that I was working about 40 hours of overtime each pay period,” Bob said.

In 1994, LGH decided to physically remove all of its educational programs from the clinical environment and consolidate the programs into an education department. Clinical departments had to determine which staff members would leave the clinical area to teach students and be responsible for their educational program. Bob was selected to be in charge of the School of Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

Over the following 17 years, the Education Department at LGH and its health science programs evolved into the PA College of Health Sciences. The School of Diagnostic Medical Sonography and other health science programs were converted into Academic Programs at the College. “During this period of time, I was the Program Director of the DMS Program. The program directors helped transform the organization into an accredited college and each director was responsible for developing the curriculum for an accredited college-based program. These goals needed to be attained without disturbing the current educational process. This was a huge undertaking and at times it seemed to be an impossible task. However, with the support and guidance of the administrative staff, we were able to achieve these goals with amazing success.”

“It has been a privilege to work at Lancaster General Hospital for 38 years. I am grateful for the opportunity to help start and develop the diagnostic medical sonography service within the Radiology Department and to help design an effective program for educating Diagnostic Medical Sonography students. I wish to thank both William Jefferson and Dr. William Young, M.D. for their support and giving me this opportunity. William Jefferson was the manager of the Radiology Department when I was hired.”

“Dr. Young and I worked well as a team. He encouraged me to learn more about diagnostic medicine and he would create opportunities for me to sharpen my skills. When we started the imaging service in 1973, Dr. Young told me that I would be responsible for performing the sonographic procedures and he would be responsible for the interpretation of the sonograms. It was a great decision for both of us. For the ultrasound service to succeed, the sonographer needed to have the responsibility of conducting a careful and focused examination of the patient and producing images that accurately reflected what was present in the body. Without this commitment, the accuracy of the interpretation could easily be compromised. I loved the challenge of examining the patient and discovering what was causing the patient’s problem. I also tried very hard to make the examination truly diagnostic.”

To the current class of DMS students:

“Diagnostic Medical Sonography is a great career. It can be rewarding and at times it can be challenging. I encourage you to learn all that you can in the short time you are in the program and really develop your diagnostic and scanning skills, so that you can hit the track running when you graduate and become the next generation of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. Best of luck to all of you.”

Bob retired in 2011 but continued to teach as an adjunct for one more year. In his free time, he enjoys volunteering, meeting with friends, genealogy and local history, as well as participating in local chorale groups. He and his wife, Judi, have two daughters, Jennifer and Emily, and four grandchildren, Luke, 19, Logan, 14, Leah, 7, and Anna, 4.