Ronald A. Bergman, Ph.D.

Honored Member Award 2012

Dr. Ronald A. Bergman is Professor Emeritus of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and Honorary Editor of the International Journal of Anatomical Variations. Dr. Bergman grew up in Chicago and earned BS (biology), MS (physiology and zoology), and PhD (Marine Biology, 1955) degrees from the University of Illinois. He did postgraduate work as a National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis Fellow at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Following his work in Sweden, he was offered a position in the Poliomyelitis Laboratory in the School of Hygiene at The Johns Hopkins Medical Center by David Bodian, a distinguished polio researcher. When Dr. Bodian was appointed Head of the Department of Anatomy at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Bergman was asked to join him. There, Dr. Bergman continued his bench research in muscle biology and was assigned to teach gross anatomy. By Dr. Bergman’s own admission, he did not know enough anatomy “to stuff a pocket” and that his knowledge of the subject he was to teach was “pitiful.” Despite his early humiliation and frustration as an instructor, he exemplified the contemporary attribute of “lifelong learning” and developed preeminence in the discipline.  In 1974 Dr. Bergman went to the American University of Beirut where he was Professor in the Department of Human Morphology until 1980. During that time, he and his colleagues held the medical school together while civil war raged in Lebanon. For his valiant work, he was awarded the Gold Order of Merit medal by the Lebanese Government.  In 1980 Dr. Bergman moved to the Department of Anatomy at the University of Iowa where he taught gross anatomy and histology to hundreds of medical students before retiring in 1997. He is the author of 66 papers and more than a dozen books and chapters, including texts on MRI and CT Sectional Anatomy. He directed the thesis work of several graduate students and supervised postdoctoral fellows and was the recipient of numerous teaching awards, and research and education grants.

Over the course of 35+ years, Dr. Bergman methodically perused a total of 884 research journals (every English journal and a multitude of foreign journals as well) and each page from their inception and catalogued human anatomic variations. From this work he published the Compendium of Human Anatomic Variation: Text, Atlas, and World Literature (1988) and Illustrated Encyclopedia of Human Anatomic Variation (1996). In 2006, he and his associates made these and other resources available as an online anatomy health sciences library, the Anatomy Atlases (www.anatomyatlases.org), for use by medical students, residents, other health care providers, and patients. In 2011, this website had nearly 4 million pages read by 1.2 million visitors representing 560 gigabytes of data transferred! These resources are the “crown jewel” of Dr. Bergman’s professional career.

A quote from Sir William Osler on the website reads, “Variability is the law of life, and as no two faces are the same, so no two bodies are alike.” This personifies what Dr. Bergman clearly saw and spent a career responding to in the anatomy lab and in the literature. As anatomists and clinicians, we are deeply indebted to Dr. Bergman’s determined pursuit to document and illustrate human anatomic variations and we are beneficiaries of his incredible scholarship. The next time we think we have discovered something “new under the sun” in the lab, we might wish to first check with the “Father of Human Anatomic Variations.” The AACA is very pleased and honored to recognize Dr. Bergman as this year’s Honored Member.