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Alice Ettinger

Sitting at the back of a Tufts University School of Medicine conference room, the diminutive Alice Ettinger was easy to miss as students and faculty discussed an x-ray. “But then all of a sudden you’d hear, ‘Excuse me, is that Mrs. Jones?’” recalls Jonathan Posin, M79, who now teaches and practices radiology in California. “Even from thirty feet away, she would know the film, the diagnosis, the patient, and the family. We all wondered how she could pull this off. She was a presence and a strength far belying her physical stature.”

When she retired, in 1985, after more than a half century at Tufts, Ettinger had taught, inspired, cajoled, and mentored generations of students, who honored her with thirteen teaching awards and enduring praise for both her medical and her pedagogical skills. She died in 1993.

Ettinger was born in Berlin in 1899, just four years after Conrad Röntgen discovered x-rays. In 1932, carrying with her a prototype of a new x-ray machine, she arrived via steamer in Boston, where she remained for the rest of her life. The first radiologist-in-chief at the New England Medical Center in 1939, she became the first chair of radiology at the medical school twenty years later.

At a time when few women were enrolled as students, let alone faculty, Ettinger blazed both professional and gender trails. “It was nice to see someone who could be a mentor figure,” says Catherine Mills, who spent five years working with Ettinger at Tufts as a radiology resident and then under a fellowship from 1977 to 1982. “She was very smart and extremely kind, but she demanded excellence.” Ettinger transferred to her students not only the skills of radiology, but its value, added Mills, who is married to Posin. “She made us understand that, as radiologists, we can change the course of peoples’ lives by figuring out what’s wrong when others can’t.”

Always intellectually curious, Ettinger often traveled to keep current on developments in radiology, all of which she would convey back to her students at Tufts. “To me, she was an angel, a once-in-a-lifetime person,” says Mills. “You can only hope that you can carry on, and come up to, her legacy.”

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