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NCI's Isenburg Recognized for Nearly 58 Years of Service
By Sarah Schroeder
For over three decades now, photographer Ralph Isenburg has captured the pathology of cancer cells at the National Cancer Institute through the lens of his camera. His 33 years at NCI, part of almost 58 years of government service, were recognized at the 50th anniversary of the Department of Health and Human Services celebration held Apr. 29. Along with 11 others from various HHS divisions, Isenburg received a certificate and medallion recognizing them as the "longest serving" employees.
At the event, Secretary Tommy G. Thompson praised all HHS employees. "I'm so proud of each and every one of you. I always tell people that HHS has the best public employees of any place in the world."
The event concluded with the senior honorees cutting a three-tiered birthday cake and with healthy parting words from Thompson: "Just a reminder, this cake is not on your regular diet; get your 10,000 steps on your walkometer."
Despite his many years of dedicated service and accomplishments, Isenburg is a modest man and expressed surprise at being selected to represent NIH at the anniversary. Like many young men during World War II, Isenburg began serving his country through the military. A decorated soldier, he served for 5 years. After returning to civilian life, he worked briefly as a clerk for the Veterans Administration.
In 1953, without knowing exactly what a medical photographer was, he applied to the Rochester General Hospital School of Medical Photography at the suggestion of his future wife, a medical illustrator. He was one of five students accepted and spent the next 3 years learning photography of medical procedures and cells. After graduating, he worked at Johns Hopkins Medical School, followed by a job with the photomicrography section at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.
He joined the photography unit in NCI's Laboratory of Pathology in 1969 and continues to work there as chief medical photographer. During his career, he has produced more than 50,000 photos and slides used for publications and presentations. He's seen tremendous technological changes in his field with the advent of digital photography.
"I used to do all my own color developing," Isenburg said. "Now I don't do it anymore. It's almost all digital."
Although people ask from time to time, Isenburg has no immediate plans to retire. "I love my job, and I'm in good health," he said. That comes as welcome news to his many friends and admirers at NCI.
"He is not only one of the very best medical photographers I have known, but also a wonderful person," said Dr. Alan Rabson, deputy director of NCI. "In his 33 years, he has made many important contributions to the illustration of pathology in numerous publications."
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