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Medical impact felt across the globe

Latter-day Saint doctor dubbed the ‘Rock Star of Radiology’

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Dubbed by colleagues as the "Rock Star of Radiology," Anne Osborn Poelman is one of the world's most prominent neuroradiologists. She's written numerous medical textbooks. She's traveled the globe giving lectures. She's a pioneer researcher.

Still, the place she feels most comfortable — the place where her heart and soul reside — is in her Salt Lake City neighborhood, with her husband, emeritus General Authority Ronald E. Poelman, and friends.

"The neighborhood women have no idea what I really do," she said. "What they do know is how I feel and my testimony of the gospel. That is what really matters."

The first woman elected president of the American Society of Neuroradiology, she is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine and holds the William H. and Patricia W. Child Presidential Endowed Chair in Radiology Honoring Pioneering Utah Women in Medicine. She also co-created the first comprehensive point-of-care electronic imaging reference system. She has received gold medals — awards equivalent to a lifetime achievement award or an Oscar Award — from the Chicago Radiological Society, the Asian-Oceanian Congress of Radiology, the American Society of Neuroradiology and the Mexican Federation of Radiological Societies.

In November she was honored with a gold medal by the Radiology Society of North America, the largest radiology organization in the world.

"Probably what I do best is to take large amounts of information from many fields and boil them down to the essentials that many people can understand," she said.

In essence, she is a world-renowned specialist in the diagnosis of brain and spine diseases.

A diagnostic radiologist, Dr. Osborn (she has retained her maiden name for her medical career) does not see patients, but instead reads their scans and draws medical conclusions based on their images. Over the years, she has seen millions and millions of images and hundreds of thousands of cases from all over the world.

"It is like playing a super game of Clue," she said. "We are the ones that pull the pieces of the puzzle together.... Most of the patients will never know what it is we do."

Yet her role in medicine is extremely important. "The right diagnosis really directs the treatment options in the right direction.... I still love to get up and go to work in the morning," she said.

A convert to the Church, Sister Poelman first learned of the gospel and its teachings as a medical student at Stanford University Medical School. She served on the general boards of the Sunday School and Relief Society. Currently, she teaches gospel doctrine in the Emigration 4th Ward, Salt Lake Emigration Stake. In 1982, at age 38, she met and married Elder Poelman, whose first wife, Claire, had died in 1979.

Her happy marriage and service opportunities in her career and the Church are indicators that the Lord guided and directed her life, Sister Poelman said. It is fulfilling, she added, "knowing you really made a difference in someone's life."

Elder Poelman recalls a time he was horseback riding with his wife when they met and began talking to another doctor. When the doctor found out she was talking to "the Anne Osborn" she "almost fell off her horse."

The doctor told Elder Poelman that, as a teacher, she used all of his wife's text books. "You're just like a real person," she told Sister Poelman.

Sister Poelman said she hopes people remember her as just that.

"You can write all the books, you can give all the lectures, you can have all the praise of colleagues, but that is earthly transient information. The day I retire someone else will write the books. The real impact we have is in the lives of our patients and the people we train."

And in neighborhood and Church circles, Sister Poelman would rather be remembered for making great chocolate and teaching wonderful gospel doctrine lessons, than diagnosing brain disease.

"The things of the heart and the spirit don't change," she said.

However, Sister Poelman can't deny that "I really, really love what I do." Through her work, the Poelmans have made good friends all over the world, while she has lectured in many nations including China, Japan, Korea, Australia, India, South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

Her greatest medical legacy might be a huge electronic reference system that will help provide practical, useful information to doctors worldwide, at the "point of care." She hopes to use the system to deliver medical information "to people who need it but can't pay for it."

The system will provide constantly updated information that will be accessible, that can't become obsolete or lost, like text books.

"If that works and I think it will, that may be the best legacy of all," she said.

E-mail to: sarah@desnews.com