She was the woman who literally wrote the book on how radiology departments operate, yet very little is known about her.

Every day, radiology departments worldwide follow the same positioning protocol for millions of X-ray examinations, created by an American woman named Vinita Merrill. Her Atlas of Roentgenographic Positions is the gold standard for positioning practices.

Born in Oklahoma in 1905, she began the compilation of what would become her eponymous book in 1936, when she was working as Technical Director and Chief Technologist in the Department of Radiology and instructor in the School of Radiography at New York Hospital.

She went on to become the Director of the Educational Department of Picker X-ray Corporation, where she completed the book in 1949. It was published in two volumes, with more than 1,500 illustrations, at an original cost of only $30. She completed three more editions from 1959 to 1975.

Today, job descriptions still require radiology staff to reference her standards for all routine examinations. Her book covers preliminary steps in radiography, radiation projection, and terminology. It teaches anatomy and positioning for each bone group or organ system. Students learn to position patients properly so that the resulting radiograph provides the information a radiologist needs to correctly diagnose a patient.

Later editions by new authors provide basic information about a variety of special imaging modalities, such as mobile, surgical, geriatric, computed tomography, and cardiac catheterization.

A pocket guide is now available, for quicker reference to the 170 most frequently requested projections. Its current edition presents more than 400 illustrations, with chapters illustrated in color and now augmented with MRI images as appropriate.

The text is so highly regarded, many state boards and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists refer to it when designing certification exams.

Merrill’s book is now printed in more than two dozen languages and held in 603 educational libraries worldwide. It is considered to be the most comprehensive resource,  both as an excellent textbook and a superb clinical reference for practicing radiographers and physicians.

She died in New York City in 1977.