Frances Keech: Australia’s Gift to Nuclear Medicine


Vol. 17 •Issue 19 • Page 43
Leading Technologist

Frances Keech: Australia’s Gift to Nuclear Medicine

Philadelphia is half a world away from New South Wales, Australia. It was here at the June meeting of the Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM), however, that her peers surprised Australian native Frances Keech, MBA, RT(N), by electing her a Fellow of the SNM Technologists Section (FSNMTS).

The SNMTS leadership held its first fellow induction ceremony at the June 1995 meeting, inducting the first 25 presidents of the SNMTS. The next year the fellow application process was opened to reward individuals for significant contributions to the Technologists Section, said Lyn M. Mehlberg, BS, CNMT, FSNMTS, immediate past president of the SNMTS.

While Keech, who was president of the SNMTS (2002-2003), certainly meets and exceeds this definition, no one in the SNMTS leadership realized that she hadn’t applied for the honor. To redress the situation, Melhberg turned to a provision that gives the SNMTS president the authority to bypass the application process and induct a past president into the organization.

“Hence the surprise for Frances,” Mehlberg said.

Keech, who left Australia in 1986, is the director of the nuclear medicine program at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) in Boston. In addition to her term as president of the SNMTS, Keech has been a supporter of the organization.

“As an educator and leader, Frances Keech has made incredible contributions to the profession of nuclear medicine,” Melhberg told ADVANCE. “She is most often recognized for several key projects. In her term as president, she began the discussions, which eventually propelled PET/CT to the forefront of SNMTS initiatives. She chaired the Advanced Practice Task Force for the past two years. Most notably, she chaired the SNMTS Scope of Practice Task Force of the Socioeconomic Affairs Committee.

“I am happy to have had the opportunity to facilitate the induction of such a worthy leader into the SNMTS fellow status,” Mehlberg concluded.

An extended “walk-about”

It was her brother’s illness that first attracted Keech to nuclear medicine. He was born with a heart defect necessitating yearly evaluation by cardiac catheterization. In the late 1970s, a nuclear medicine first-pass study offered a less invasive way to evaluate his heart.

Attracted to the discipline, Keech made inquiries and applied for a position during her last year of high school.

“At the time, nuclear medicine wasn’t quite on-the-job training; you had to get a position first and then go to college from that institution,” Keech said. “It was a certificate program out of a technical college in Sydney and you needed a strong physics, chemistry and math background.”

Since Australia has national health care, the state decides how many positions are available for students. Although the requisite job was difficult to find, Keech was accepted at St. Vincent’s hospital in Sydney in January 1980. She worked there and attended college one day a week for the first year, and three nights a week for the last two years of the program, receiving her certificate in December 1982.

In 1984, she left St. Vincent’s to work at Royal Prince Alfred’s Hospital in Sydney. In June 1986, she left Australia to come and work at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“It is a very common thing for Australians to pack up and travel around the world,” she explained. “I wasn’t gong to take time off from my career. Coming to Boston and working is not quite what the Australians would consider a walk-about, but it was the best I could do at the time.”

After two years at Mass General and one year as an application specialist for the Sophia, a French camera manufacturer, Keech married and began a nine-year stint as chief technologist at the Dana Faber Cancer Institute in Boston.

After receiving a MBA at Simmons College in Boston, and working in the hospital’s financial department as a billing compliance manager, she moved up the road to her present position at MCPHS in 2000.

Doing it all

Keech joined the SNM when she moved to Boston. She became involved with the local chapter, giving lectures and working on various committees. In 1995, she was chosen president-elect of the New England Chapter of the SNMTS. She advanced through president, past-president and then was national council delegate from that chapter from 1997-1999.

“This really got me involved on the national level, sitting on committees and task forces,” Keech said. Her outstanding work as delegate led to her election as president of the SNMTS.

Last year, as past-president, she was appointed to the board of directors of both the SNM and the SNM Education and Research Fund. She is also on the board of the Joint Review Committee on Education for Nuclear Medicine Technology.

Asked how she coped with being a mother of two young children (Daniel is 10 and Casey is 8), directing a nuclear medicine technology program, and remaining active in the SNMTS, Keech credited her employer and family for their support.

Joyce Ward is the technical editor at ADVANCE. She can be reached at jward@merion.com

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