ANZSNM recently celebrated 50 years as a professional organisation and is proud of being a society that embraces diversity, and encourages participation by all. This is reflected in our society statement
‘The one society for all nuclear medicine professionals'.
On reflecting on the achievement of 50 years as a professional society, I was curious to find out more about the women in nuclear medicine in Australia, and the early contributions to our profession and our society. I tasked my colleague, mentor and friend, Dr Agatha van der Schaaf, with compiling stories and achievements of these remarkable women. Dr Agatha van der Schaaf was the first female president of ANZSNM, and she approached this task with the professionalism, determination and thoroughness which marked her own incredible career.
Thank you to all that have contributed to this special piece – it is a wonderful collection of anecdotes and reflections, which help us understand the challenges that were faced and overcome. Several of our incredible women have provided more detailed stories and I would encourage you to read these stories, and enjoy reflecting on how much has changed over the decades in Nuclear Medicine, and how much promise our future continues to hold. A special thank you to Agatha for compiling these stories, and for your inspiration and leadership.
~ Ros Francis (ANZSNM President 2018-2020)
Before the ANZSNM appointed a permanent secretariat in 1999 all the administrative work, including making hotel bookings for ASM attendees, fell to the national committee and as always the honorary secretary and treasurer carried a hefty workload, not aided by the fact that the committee members were geographically scattered, from Queensland to Western Australia. Of course, the internet had not been invented and word processing was unavailable.
This magnificent contribution is the reason for honouring all women office bearers by listing them in this feature. Regrettably, it was not possible to contact each one, but I have tried to collect a cross-section of their stories, as well as fascinating contributions by our pioneers.
~ Agatha van der Schaaf (ANZSNM President 1991-1992)
Dr Millicent Hughes nee Marion | Mrs Helen Stretch nee Bavister | Ms Jennifer Guille | Mrs Jill Wawn nee Freeman | Dr Josephine Wiseman | Mrs Jocelyn Towson nee Cato | Dr Agatha van der Schaaf | Mrs Catherine McHenry | Mrs Brenda Walker | A/Prof Monica Rossleigh | Heather Patterson | Heather Hodges
Nuclear Medicine Consultant, Royal Adelaide Hospital 1969-1977, then Flinders Medical Centre and private practice
Trained with David Kuhl at the University of Pennsylvania
Most of my highlights are episodes of fun and joy
I was offered a job in Adelaide by Peter Ronai. I came to Adelaide in 1969 as the Clinical Director of Nuclear Medicine at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. I spent the latter years of my Royal Adelaide time as the Dept Director when Peter Ronai moved to the USA. I remained there full-time until 1977 when family matters meant a change to part-time work. My part-time work extended to positions at Flinders Medical Centre, and the Children’s Hospital. I finally retired from work in 2003.
Now a few highlights of the early days...
Working with Jim Mc Rae was always full of surprises. I have kept in touch with him for years. My time with David Kuhl was great and my expertise in electrical matters is due to him. I also have fond memories of Tony Walker and Peter Ronai.
Work in Room 326 at the Medical School was always stimulating as people from all related medical groups swept in for a chat and throwing a few ideas around. The early attempts at inhalation lung scans remain such a story. With many tries and fails using the respiratory registrars as research tools. Other new ideas were enlivened by this, including research using sheep!
My first such was going to the ward to inject a patient for a brain scan in the very early days with As 35 walking through the dilapidated Mary Roberts wards and falling through the floor. Such a business being rescued but did not spill a drop of the isotope.
Whilst attending the Lucas Heights course all of the attendees were locked inside the facility as some radioactive source had been lost. Finally, it was found in the pocket of one of the course attendees. He became the head of the Indian department of rocket research. I was not surprised when his first attempt at launching a rocket went about four feet.
Now a few serious questions about the development of Nuclear Medicine in Australia...
Sadly, the early practitioners did not move to establish the field totally independent of the other practice groups in medicine. The early ones were fundamentally physicians with postgraduate medical qualifications. Later the field got swept up in many centres by radiology. Technology training has become part of radiology almost exclusively. Our relationship with radiotherapy is dubious and obscured. Now we sit somewhere a bit of both but many of the areas we could have developed have just died from lack of direct interest.
Nuclear Medicine Technologist, trained at Royal Perth Hospital in the Department of Medical Physics in 1971
Multiple positions in public hospitals and private practice in Western Australia
Retired in 2012
Life was full of fun and excitement, then I received a letter from management at the hospital that now I was a married woman I needed to resign my position.
I was asked to provide some insight into the early days of working as a Nuclear Medicine Technologist in Perth in the early 1970s.
Having a newly acquired Certificate of Competence in Diagnostic Radiography I decided the world was my oyster but before I would tackle overseas a flit around Australia came first. I left Sydney for a position in Adelaide and after 10 months my mother spied an advertisement for a position in Medical Physics in Perth, training for a new branch of medicine requiring radiographers. Having an interview in Adelaide I duly arrived in Perth to start work on the 26th of January- no one was home, all on holiday.
Twelve months of specialised intensive training and I was fully equipped to be a Nucleographer. My Perth based boyfriend whom I had met in Adelaide followed me and by the end of 1971, we married.
Life was full of fun and excitement then I received a letter from management at the hospital that now I was a married woman I needed to resign my position. This set me back as I had never experienced or seen any problems before working in Sydney or Adelaide with married women having to resign their positions. I being a modern woman with education and qualifications thought this appalling so steadfastly refused to resign and politely suggested that Perth was a bit behind the times.
My Head of Department suggested he write to Management that he would be delighted to keep me on as he had just invested a lot of training in me and wished to keep all the other young women that he had trained if they married, as they were the backbone of his department. I think remnants of post-war Australia when married women were directed to give up their work on the return of Service Men had not been tested in the Western Australian Government and from when my objections filtered through this law fell into disuse by the government.
Thinking back I was never offered Superannuation as I was a woman firstly, raising children and working part-time. I started a post taxation private superannuation policy that never produced much after high fees were taken out. I was never offered Superannuation until the Federal Government mandated Compulsory Superannuation as part of the remuneration package.
It is wonderful to see no barriers to young women pursuing a great career in Medical Sciences.
Photo left: The first NMTs ("radiographers/radioisotopes", "nucleographers") in Perth in 1971
Back row: Diane Cheong, Jean Grieve, Robin Jolly, Helen Stretch, Cheryl Robb
Front row: Agnes Gleeson, Carolyn Blackwell.
Trainee Nuclear Medicine Technologist 1971
Chief Nuclear Medicine Technologist, Royal North Shore Hospital 1974
Chief Nuclear Medicine Technologist, Sydney Hospital 1978
Radiopharmaceutical Scientist, St Vincent's Hospital 1982
Various positions in research and industry 1985-2002
Radiopharmaceutical scientist (RPS), Prince of Wales Hospital 2002-present
Written from my perspective and memories …
I commenced working in NM in 1971, as a trainee technologist. I studied the Certificate of NMT at TAFE, a 3-yr part-time course during which you worked 4.5 days per week in a NM department, and studied at night.
It was the first year of the course in NSW, although I believe there was a course in Melbourne RMIT that was already running. The system was great in that it allowed students who needed to work an opportunity to study and work, and for many people from the country, it was an excellent solution to an otherwise unaffordable education.
I started as a trainee at RNSH, the department consisting of a thyroid clinic, scanning and Welcome Laboratories, which performed a wide range of radioimmunoassays and some bioassays. Essentially the department (as in NM) had grown from endocrinology, thyroid uptake, scans and therapy being the initial drivers. Many years later, endocrinology split away from NM. I think POWH had similar beginnings, whereas other departments grew from different origins (Sydney was from radiotherapy).
At that time, apart from a very large daily thyroid clinic, we performed mainly brain, lung and liver scans as well as thyroid and F-18 bone scans. Pertechnetate, Sulphur colloid and MAAH were delivered daily from ANSTO (Lucas Heights) in multidose vials. No cold kits existed in those days! F-18 was delivered at 1pm and the patient had to be on the bed ready for the injection. We were confined to a rectilinear scanner such as the one in the images below.
The women in this photo are Brenda Walker (Physicist) and Jenny Dixon (Chief Technologist) POWH (with Prof IPC (Provan) Murray)
A full image of a rectilinear scanner. The scanning head is in the left, the printer and film cassette on the right.
Above: The four views of a brain scan. Tc-99m pertechnetate is the radiopharmaceutical. It only accumulates within the brain where there is a loss of integrity of the blood-brain barrier due to pathology, e.g. subdural haematoma or tumour.
The TAFE course was taught by young members of the NM fraternity, Registrars such as John Burke (St George) and John McKay (POWH), and Physicists such as Richard Smart (St George), Stame George (RNSH). Brenda Walker (POWH) and Jocelyn Towson (RPAH). Brenda, Jocelyn and Jane Cormack (Adelaide) were the pioneer female Physicists in NM. Brenda and Jane had both emigrated from the UK, as had many of the Physicists at that time.
The first NM female doctors I recall were Josephine Wiseman (RNSH from around 1975) and Judy Freund (St Vincent's, dates uncertain). I cannot comment on other states but presume Agatha was amongst those early trailblazers.
I completed my studies in 1973, was appointed Chief Technologist in 1974, mostly because there were no more senior qualified NMTs, and commenced a BSc as an external student in 1975. During this time, we introduced gamma cameras - brain flow studies were done by an NMT standing by the polaroid camera and successively ripping out photos every few seconds, rapidly reloading after the first cassette of eight was finished, and pulling again for the second night. Needless to say, the timing was 'off'.
An early gamma camera (Searle). The NMT is lining up the image in the viewfinder, the polaroid camera is just visible under the viewfinder.
Whole-body scanning (rectilinear scanner) also became available, with the NMT sitting beside the bed keeping the camera head as close to the body as possible as it traversed the length of the body. The images were pretty good though. During this time Tc-99m PYP must have become available for bone imaging, and I think its secondary use for cardiac imaging would have also been developed, as we also acquired our first ‘mainframe’ computer. It took up a whole room, was ‘booted’ each day from a ‘ticker-tape’ and was, of course, the physicist's dream. We started analyzing data such as cardiac ejection fractions, drawing regions around sections of images and performing, what compared to today’s capabilities, the first crude image analyses.
In 1977 I moved to what is now Douglass Hanly Moir pathology labs, one of the largest in Australia to run their RIA laboratory. My move was prompted by their progressive 4 x 10-hour day working week, which fitted well with my external studies at that time. Radioimmunoassay (RIA) was, at that time, a very big proportion of NM work in institutions where it was performed. The range of tests was wide and encompassed many of the endocrinology tests now performed by other techniques (radiolabelling antibodies preceded the technologies that exist today, such as fluorescence, that enable the detection and identification of ‘bound and free’ moieties to determine the concentration of a substrate).
In 1978, missing the work diversity of a major hospital, I accepted the position of Chief NMT at Sydney Hospital, a department that arose from the Radiotherapy unit, run by the irascible Col Hambly. Peter Valk, better known for his US work in PET and NMR, was the NM Specialist, and under him, ultrasound was added to the diagnostic suite. It was here that Monica Rossleigh spent her first years as an NM Registrar. During this time, she did her first presentation at an ANZSNM ASM, I recall her being extremely nervous.
During this time, I commenced a part-time postgraduate Master’s degree by research and thesis, in radiobiology, looking at the effect of free radical interactions. I think also during these years other radionuclides became available – Ga-67 for infection and lymphoma, Tl-201 for cardiac imaging. The latter also resulted in the development of specialist ‘beds’ which looked like a contraption from a horror movie or a lethal injection suite, but which was aimed at minimizing patient movement to allow motion correction to be applied with greater accuracy.
Around 1981, Sydney Hospital was downgraded from a major teaching hospital and so NM was removed as a service, all staff being relocated to other hospitals. I was offered positions at a few hospitals, transferring to a Hospital Scientist as a ‘radiochemist’, as a result of my research interests and experience. I accepted the offer from St Vincent’s Hospital and so began my initial experience in this field. I received training from Rick Baker (RAH) and Ross Hannah (ACT). At that time, the introduction of radiopharmacists and RPS to hospitals was mostly for the purpose of cold kit production and some cell labelling as the cost savings offset the cost of the scientist.
In 1986, I was offered a research position in pharmacology using my knowledge of free radical reactions to investigate the mechanism of action of the anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). I left NM for 17 years during which time I worked also in Clinical Chemistry (RNSH) developing a specialist lipid testing service, and for Roche Diagnostics, a supplier to the clinical chemistry laboratories of automated analysers, reagents and expertise. My role at Roche was as scientific adviser, which took me to labs all across Australia and also, for a period, into the wine industry testing labs (different and fun). The wine export industry had grown 10-fold over two years and needed to automate some of the routine chemistry tests they had to perform. I established methods on automated clinical systems which allowed a significant increase in testing ability and speed.
In 2002, I returned to NM at POWH in the position of radiopharmaceutical scientist. How things had changed! PET had been introduced, new tracers were available – I had not heard of ‘MIBI’, ‘MAG3’ or ‘Ceretec’ when I left. The suite of diagnostic imaging had changed its focus – away from brain and liver (now mostly diagnosed by CT and ultrasound) to include a lot more diverse range of tests, greater analysis capability and the use of the Tc-99m generator, which together with cold kits meant that there was diminished reliance on daily deliveries from ANSTO.
A first (unshielded) version of a generator – not for routine use!
The expansion of RPS into hospitals had, at that time, been driven by the cost-savings to be had from sub-dispensing (fractionating) commercial cold kits. It is interesting that that was the initial ‘driver’ as it meant that when a real need for the knowledge and skill of an RPS became necessary, there was already a number who had started in the field. Numbers grew with the introduction of cyclotrons, the growth of PET imaging and with the development of new tracers, more recently and especially those labelled with Ga-68, as the very short half-life requires on-site synthesis.
My most recent years have been largely focused on the introduction of Ga-68 labelled peptides for PET imaging, the development of the professional certification process and the Training, Education and Assessment Program (TEAP) for RPS, both of which are administered by ACPSEM, as well as the introduction of the Masters of Radiopharmaceutical Science at Macquarie University (2012). Implementation of these began at the SIG meeting in Sydney in 2009. The first RPS registrars commenced in 2016.
 The term ‘radiochemist’ is internationally applied more to targetry chemists, which is why the term radiopharmaceutical scientist (RPS) has been adopted in Australia.
Trained at Stanford University 1969-1972 where she was part of a team performing bone scans in astronauts to detect avascular necrosis of the calcaneus
Nuclear Medicine Technologist, especially Paediatric imaging, Prince Of Wales Hospital 1973-1980
Subsequent career in management
In the US I learnt about cultural change and teamwork.
Campaigned to have NMT’s names included on publications and for the establishment of the Mallinckrodt Award.
Took a major role in the development of NMT training courses.
Photo: Jill positioning an infant for imaging
Trained at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions with Henry Wagner during 1972-1973
Nuclear Medicine Consultant, Royal North Shore Hospital 1973-1996
ANZSNM Vice president 1977-1979
Editor of RACP publication ”To Follow Knowledge”, 1988 which recorded the history of the Specialist Affiliations of the College
Society Archivist 1991-1997
Her own private practice 1997-2009
My Career in Nuclear Medicine
I graduated from the University of Sydney in 1966. As I had received a maximum pass in the Leaving Certificate with Honours in Mathematics and Latin, I had chosen Distinction Mathematics as my free choice of subject in Med I. My aim was to become a physician. After two residency years at Mona Vale Hospital (RNS had enough bathrooms for only two female residents!) where the Honorary Medical Staff came largely from major teaching hospitals, I found it impossible to obtain a position as Medical Registrar in Sydney. I was fortunate to obtain such a position at the Royal Hobart Hospital where the experience in medical specialties was excellent.
It was whilst I was in Hobart in 1968 that Professor Henry N Wagner Jr of the famous Nuclear Medicine department at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, Md, visited Australia at the instigation of the Australian Government to look at the development of nuclear medicine services in Australia. I was enthralled by the physiological principles leading to the advance of lung scanning in particular and of the use of F18 in bone scanning. My only experience of nuclear medicine had been a patient we had sent to RPAH from Mona Vale for investigation of subphrenic abscess. The scan was a joint lung/liver scan done on a rectilinear scanner.
I managed to obtain a position at Sutherland Hospital where the renowned physician, Dr John Woolridge, was one of several excellent physicians. A position became available at Sydney Hospital in Nuclear Medicine in Dr Colin Hambly’s Department of Radiotherapy and Nuclear Medicine. Here my career in nuclear medicine began. I studied for the MRACP exam which was the entry into nuclear medicine. I went to the exam with 5 men from Sydney Hospital including a Rhodes Scholar and the Professorial Registrar. I was the only one who passed; there was no celebration although Dr Hambly congratulated me and Professor Posen stated, “there is something wrong with that exam”.
At Sydney Hospital there were minor anti-feminine remarks, but nothing to the hostility I was to experience later. Here I met Dr Judy Freund, a junior at that time, who was to become the head of Nuclear Medicine at St Vincent’s in Sydney. I showed her our department and the work we were doing. Dr Hambly purchased the first large field-of-view gamma camera in Australia of which a photo is attached. I am the young doctor giving the “injection” wearing gown and gloves. The “patient” on the bed is one of our early techs, most at that time having trained in radiotherapy.
Dr Hambly had met Professor Wagner and arranged for me to spend a year in his department in Baltimore. On the way, I visited many excellent and interesting hospitals in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and London, all doing advanced work at that time in nuclear medicine. Professor Donald Ross, later Dean of Hopkins, was visiting professor in cardiology to Sydney Hospital in the 1970s and kindly invited me to stay with him and his wife in Baltimore until I was settled. This proved a gentle introduction to life in the USA. I had also had an extensive correspondence with Dr Fred Lomas who preceded me in Dr Wagner’s department.
My time in Hopkins was fruitful in many ways, learning a great deal about the promise of nuclear medicine in diagnosis and treatment of so many disorders. Also, I learned about the American way of life, and the variations of social and political thought. I had the opportunity to travel to conferences in Boston and Miami and to present a paper on imaging in SBE, which was later published. I also published with Dr Wagner a booklet on the use of radionuclides in lung scanning.
There were women in positions at all levels in his department; this was not a matter of note, as I continue to think it should not be. My colleagues as Post-Doc Fellows in Nuclear Medicine later became leaders in New Haven, Boston and New Orleans, and in the US Army. They were a varied group with deep knowledge of the history and politics of their country. I learned from them, as well as from the physicists and technologists, especially Paul Cole, who died young and has an annual award in his memory, and Wayne Kasekamp, a bright young man, who to my surprise has just retired! I should also mention the secretaries, Sharon and Juanita, who taught me a valuable skill which has lasted with me all these years, the ability to type.
When I returned to Australia I had offers of employment at 3 teaching hospitals; I guess I came back at the right time. Unfortunately, Sydney Hospital was about to be diminished and eventually destroyed by the politicians, so I chose RNS with Dr Ian Hales. Although I had been a student at RNS I was unaware of the strong Rugby culture which delegated women to the lower and forgotten ranks. The idea was to do most of the work, be on call and keep quiet. There was only one woman Head of Department in psychiatry.
I tried to bring in some changes, such as patients being seen by a doctor prior to radioiodine injection, extra lateral and oblique views, and labelling of syringes. The bone and brain injections were made up each morning from kits sent from Lucas Heights, bone on the top shelf, brain on the lower shelf, what I called unidentified clear substance for injection, ergo no need for labels. The nurses agreed with me, but no change was considered necessary, until the inevitable mis-administration. The Nuclear Medicine waiting room was shared with the Ante-Natal Clinic, radioactive xenon used at that time for ventilation scanning was found to be ducted into the kitchen below.
I became a pawn in the quest for ultrasound. Thyroid ultrasound was done in our Department of Nuclear Medicine and Endocrinology, Obstetrics in their department etc, later it all went more or less to Radiology. Much of the work I did introduce thyroid ultrasound and correlating with surgical specimens was later published in a fabricated form without my knowledge. I attended a course in the care of patients after radiation accidents at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. When I pressed for a plan for the emergency department in the case of a radiation accident, I was removed from the Radiation Safety Committee in humiliating circumstances.
In later years an endocrinologist was left in charge of nuclear medicine, I wrote for advice to a colleague in Perth who was President of the Association of Physicians in Nuclear Medicine. He sent my letter without my knowledge or consent to the administration which marked nearly the end of my career. After a great deal of unpleasantness, a new head of Nuclear Medicine was appointed. The advertisement was brought to my attention by Dr Freund. Although I had extensive qualifications and experience as well as 12 years of service, I was not interviewed and have not been informed to this day of the failure of my application. It was just assumed that a woman would not be appointed. My referees were Professor Wagner and Dr Michael Quinlan. I acted as RACP representative on interview panels at several other teaching hospitals over the years where a note was always made that any women applying had been interviewed. A foreign graduate who had failed to obtain the FRACP honoris causa was appointed.
The RACP became a refuge for me. I was always interested in the history of medicine and attended lecture evenings hosted by the History of Medicine Library following which I became a member of the Library Committee. Here I met learned men and women such as Ronald Winton, Ben Haneman, Brian Billington, Brian Gandevia, and Brenda Heagney. It was suggested that I should edit the Jubilee Edition of the College Roll (now computerised) as Joint Editor with Dr Richard Mulhearn; our Advisor was Dr Geoffrey McDonald, son of the doyen of the College, Dr CG Mc Donald.
Here I was intrigued to read the histories of so many pioneer physicians and gleaned much knowledge both editorial and medical from these two renowned Fellows. I also became the editor of “To Follow Knowledge” the history of the special societies affiliated with the College. Many old friends acted as sub-editors for the special societies including Professor John Pearn whom I had first met at a students’ convention in Sydney in 1960. The nuclear medicine section was written by Dr Frank Broderick formerly of St George Hospital, whose knowledge of the progression of Nuclear Medicine in Australia preceded mine. He touched on the rivalry and sometimes hostility between RPAH nuclear medicine and the department at POW. The launch of my book was chaired by Professor Alex Cohen PRACP of Perth. I also produced a video for the Jubilee of the RACP. Later I studied as an external student at UNE and obtained a BA in Classics and Ancient History. I spent my study leave in 1981 at the CHU de Rangeuil in Toulouse, France in the department of Professor Bru, who had worked with Dr Peter Valk in Berkeley, California.
I became Vice-President of the ANZ Society of Nuclear Medicine, and resigned when a decision was made that the Mallinckrodt Prize of $1000 was too much for a technologist!
Personally I could not approve of the POW paper detailing administration of 2 Gb of radioiodine to a volunteer in order to “prove” what we already knew, which was that non-specific uptake of any isotope may occur in any area of inflammation. Informed consent is the basis of any ethical human experimentation and I was horrified recently in Melbourne to hear a Professor of Ethics in the University of Melbourne state in an address to the ANZ Society of the History of Medicine that it was in order for the Nazi experiments to be cited in scientific and medical publications. This is anathema. Naturally such views cost me friends in the nuclear medicine community, and later in the College when I queried the valuation of books being sold to the College library by a Fellow.
I eventually obtained a voluntary redundancy and had 12 happy years in my own nuclear medicine practice in Hornsby. I purchased one of the first dual-head gamma cameras from Picker and reflected on the many changes in instrumentation from the first Anger cameras pioneered by the self-effacing bachelor whom I was privileged to meet during my time in Baltimore. During a recent bone scan in a Sydney private practice, I was impressed with the large Siemens camera with inbuilt CT.
I was treated with courtesy as a revered icon from the past.
Josephine as a member of the staff at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions 1972-1973
Trained at Cambridge University and St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, 1960s
Physicist in Nuclear Medicine, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital 1979-2013 (special interest, Radiation Safety and PET)
My own impression when looking back was how much juggling and support was required to manage work and family. I think it is better organised now - having two salaries is usually a necessity and there are more options for childcare.
Born November 1941 in UK to Australian parents who had met on voyage to UK before outbreak of WW2. Father, who had been first Flying Doctor in WA (Wyndham, 1935), completed FRCS (Edin) and served as a Squadron Leader in the RAF. Family returned to Australia at end of WW2, where father took up general practice in South Perth, obtained his FRACS and worked as urologist at Royal Perth and Fremantle Hospitals. My siblings Alexander and Nicolette (Nicky) were born in Perth.
Attended various state primary schools from South Perth to Kalamunda; secondary school at PLC in Cottesloe. Obtained six distinctions in the Leaving Certificate.
Completed BSc at UWA, majoring in mathematics. About this time, Royal Perth Hospital had appointed medical physicist Robert Stanford (from UK), WA’s first such position. He recommended training and work experience in the UK if interested in this new field. Completed BA at Cambridge, majoring in physics.
Employed as a medical physicist at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London; completing an MSc in nuclear medicine physics. At the time, the Head of the Isotope Department at Barts was physicist Joan McAlister, author of the book Radionuclide techniques in medicine (CUP, 1979). In the Introduction, she noted that her work (commencing 1957) was initially confined to the use of iodine-131 for diagnostic and therapy applications in thyroid disease using simple probes, but that 20 years later, developments in nuclear medicine instrumentation and radiopharmaceuticals were progressing rapidly. During my time at Barts, she installed a double-head whole body scanner made by IDL which was used for whole-body imaging of iodine-131, and later technetium-99m.
Interviewed in London by Dr John Morris from RPAH, Sydney. Accepted a position in the Department of Nuclear Medicine at RPAH, while living as resident physics tutor in the adjacent Women’s College, University of Sydney. Married Peter Towson, an engineering tutor at St Johns College, University of Sydney, on 19/12/69. We lived in the adjacent suburb of Newtown, joined by Nicky who was also employed by the RPAH Department of Nuclear Medicine. The three of us moved to the nearby suburb of Annandale, where Nicky typed Peter’s 300-page PhD thesis [A study of timber domestic roof frames in Australia with special reference to the use of indigenous hardwoods], using a state-of-the-art electric ‘golf ball’ typewriter.
Worked at Prince of Wales Hospital in the Department of Nuclear Medicine (said to have been Australia’s first, set up by Prof. Provan Murray). Daughter Sophie born August 1971. Returned to work at RPAH while Dr Nitaya Morris (wife Dr John Morris) minded Sophie. Son Robert born August 1973; took 6 months maternity leave then returned to RPAH in 1974, working part-time. Peter away in France from the end of 1974 on 6-month post-doc fellowship. Third child (Peter jnr) born July 1975. Resigned from RPAH.
Worked as a mathematician in the North Sydney office of company Seismic Data Processing, analysing seismic records for the Cooper Basin in Queensland (fieldwork by Peter Towson et al.)
Family, including our three children and Peter’s recently widowed mother, moved to Cambridge (UK) for a year during Peter’s sabbatical from UTS. Worked in the Department of Nuclear Medicine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital - a three mile bicycle journey each way, usually into a headwind. Peter worked in the Materials Science Department of the University of Cambridge (on the erosion of ductile metals by solid particle impact). The children learnt to ride bicycles and attended the friendly and progressive local primary school.
1980 – 2013
Returned to Sydney and resumed work at the Department of PET and Nuclear Medicine at RPAH. Appointed RSO for the Hospital, established and chaired the Radiation Safety Committee. Duties included oversight of regulatory compliance including personnel monitoring, staff training and licensing, radiation dosimetry of clinical, research and occupational exposures, incident investigation and reporting, facility design and registration of equipment and premises.
Invited participant in various IAEA-sponsored nuclear medicine training programs, including Kuala Lumpur, Dakar, Malaga and Vienna.
On 18 th June 1981, Lyn Oliver, then Head of the Department of Medical Physics at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, issued a Circular to all Hospital Radiation Safety Officers and Officers of the Radiation Branch, Health Commission of N.S.W. with an invitation to attend a round table seminar with respect to the Radioactive Substances Act, 1957. The seminar would discuss:
This was the start of HURSOG (the NSW Hospital and University Radiation Safety Officers Group) which is still going strong, with meetings every two months.
Retired from RPAH in 2013. Since then I have represented NSW Health on a panel revising the Australian Standard on safety in radioisotope laboratories, attended occasional conferences of the Australian Radiation & Protection Society (ARPS) and HURSOG meetings.
Nuclear Medicine Consultant Royal Perth Hospital then Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital 1976-2009 and,
Head of Department 1987-2007
17th President of the ANZSNM, First woman President 1991-1992
Associate Member of the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee (now ACPM Advisory Committee on Prescription Medicines), during 1991-1999
Member of the ANSTO Board 2002-2007
Retired in 2011
Honorary Life Member ANZSNM 2013
When during the 70s I turned up for an AGM of what used to be the ANZAPNM, I was asked to leave because "this meeting is only for doctors".
My career in Nuclear Medicine started in 1971, at Royal Perth Hospital, which then provided the only NM service in Western Australia. There was no Nuclear Medicine department as such and the speciality operated as an adjunct to Medical Physics, based on the British Zuckerman model, in which the physicians’ role was purely one of assessing the patients and reporting the studies. Nuclear Medicine as a new modality was a scarce resource and my consultant Dr Michael Quinlan and I used to do a daily ward round to prioritise a bundle of request forms. In the process we gleaned useful clinical information to supplement what was by modern standards a paucity of photons in these new functional images!
The imaging equipment used in the pioneering days of Nuclear Medicine was a Picker 5”x 2” rectilinear scanner, a single, moving radiation detector. In the early 70s, the revolutionary stationary Anger gamma camera came into widespread clinical use.
The state of computing at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in 1972 was most rudimentary, there were only two computers at that time: one in Pulmonary Physiology and the other in Nuclear Medicine. The DEC-PDP 11s had a fraction of the computing power of today’s smartphone. Ironically, they were known as minicomputers, although in the Nuclear Medicine department the Computer Room eventually took up an area equivalent to 3 offices. It was the trainee’s duty to start up the computer, initially located in the basement, first thing in the morning, by flicking the binary switches: up, up, down, up, down, down!
One of the imaging studies which we performed, now a real curiosity, was placental scanning for placenta praevia using a blood pool agent In111M, with a half-life of 100 minutes. The images were, by contemporary standards, somewhat light on correlative anatomical detail. On arrival on the railway platform in Heidelberg in February 1974 a pamphlet, in German, was thrust into my hand, protesting against this type of investigation, which, according to the text, was being carried out in pregnant women, as research, without any explanation, let alone informed consent.
In 1975 I was admitted to the ANZAPNM, the professional body for the Nuclear Medicine specialists, and I was excited to be able to attend my first AGM. I arrived early and modestly selected a seat towards the back of the hall. I was surprised when, while the hall was still filling, the President, descended from the dais, headed towards me and on approach said: “Excuse me, but this meeting is for doctors only”.
During the 80s developments in Nuclear Medicine were steady, with the introduction of myocardial perfusion imaging being a major advance. When I became Head of Department in 1987 I had little idea what was involved or expected of me; the hospital certainly did not tell me, so I found a list which I stuck on the wall over my desk: “What do managers do?”. Goal setting was one important task and I could think of a simple goal that would take real team work to achieve and would make a difference to patient care: that was to get the reports out on the day the study was completed, where that was at all possible. We started tracking the % achieved as a KPI, which was owned by every staff member.
We also had lots of fun with departmental staff development, well before the Hospital started its in-house training courses. We attended the Australian Institute of Management course “Managing in the 90s” in 1989. Staff members showed true commitment in giving up their weekends to do training with external facilitators, the topics ranging from: Change management, Communication, Quality Improvement, Teamwork, Conflict Resolution and not to forget: How to deal with Difficult People.
Meanwhile in the wider medical community the Clinicians in Management movement had started, and formal short courses became available, in which all staff were encouraged to participate.
The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and The Austin Hospital opened PET units in 1991 and the first formal submission requesting support for a PET facility in WA was made to the Health Department of WA in 1993, although there had been years of discussions and correspondence with the Department about the clinical need for PET prior to this date.
One of the specialist colleagues in our department became so frustrated at the slow progress that he wrote a passionate letter to the Premier, pointing out the clinical need for a PET facility in WA. The premier passed the letter for comment to the Minister for Health, who referred it to the Commissioner for Health, who sent it to the CEO of SCGH, from there to the Director of Medical Services, to the Medical Co-director of the Central Services CSU, and finally it was passed to me as the Head of Department for comment. Process in the public sector!
The current state of Nuclear Medicine is the best that it has ever been, the speciality having converged with anatomic imaging and molecular biology and playing an increasing role in therapy: such an evolution from our 1970s images. Now the bright and savvy members of the Generations X and Y, have deservedly become the leaders in our field and I wish them great success in securing the future of Nuclear Medicine.
Agatha visiting the Opal Reactor construction site in 2003
Nuclear Medicine Technologist, then Chief Nuclear Medicine Technologist, Royal North Shore Hospital 1973-1983
Private practices in Brisbane
Secretary ANZSNM 1987-1991
Vice President 1991-1992
The Prince Charles Hospital 1998-2018
Member of Ministerial Working Party on Mutual Recognition
I retired in February 2018 after almost exactly 45 yrs as an NMT. My husband, Conor, calculated it in days, hours, minutes and seconds. So it must have been a long 45 years for him at least!
I first joined the Federal committee of the ANZSNM in about 1985 having served on the NSW Branch committee and NSW SNMT for several years before moving to Queensland in 1983. I was a Committee member (and Qld rep), then Secretary for four years before becoming Vice President for a further two.
In the early 1990s I got involved in the push for professional registration when I was representing the ANZSNM (basically as a gate-crasher!) on an Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council (AHMAC) Working Party on Mutual Recognition for Health Occupations – aimed at standardising the regulation of health professions across the nation. National registration for radiographers was being lobbied for strongly by the A.I.R. at the time and we had to ensure that the interests of our profession were presented by us. The AHMAC recommendation that the MRT professions be registered in all Australian jurisdictions trickled into Queensland by 1998 and along with others, I represented the ANZSNM in developing that legislation which eventually came into being in 2002.
I served two 4-year terms as the NMT representative on the Qld MRT Board. There was a lot of controversy within the ANZSNM at the time, but history has overtaken us and now we’re all registered nationally through AHPRA.
Physicist, Nuclear Medicine, Prince of Wales Hospital 1971-2006
Secretary ANZSNM 1981-1984
Treasurer of the World Federation of Nuclear Medicine and Biology, 1990-1994
Treasurer of the 6th World Congress in Sydney in 1994
I was always involved in the major decisions in the Department
Something which has come to mind recently with the MeToo movement is that as a woman in Medical Physics I was always treated equally to the guys and with great respect within and outside the department.
I came to the other side of the world from London in 1971 to a 3-month locum Medical Physics job at Prince of Wales Hospital. Now I find it hard to believe as Australia House in London informed me just a few days before I was due to leave that there were no other jobs at my level in the country! This turned out to be very out of date information. The locum position was for Jocelyn Towson and luckily for me, she decided not to return. I started in the Medical Physics Department but was quickly moved to Nuclear Medicine full-time as it began to grow.
I worked under the leadership of Prof Provan Murray and Dr Radmil Hoschl in the 70s and 80s. We had a great team and I was always included in the major decision making in the Department.
In the early 70s in conjunction with ANSTO (then AAEC) our department was developing the first Tc99m labelled bone scanning agent Skeltec. Jane Cormack and I were involved with the measurements for the dosimetry of this exciting product which was accepted worldwide as the agent of choice for bone scanning.
There was so much clinical research going on in the late 70s with the introduction of computerised cardiac studies. These were mainly developed in the USA but we validated and improved the methods. I even disproved one method! My main research interest then was the cardiac shunt studies on children (Qp: Qs) as we did a lot of paediatric work with the Children’s Hospital.
The early 70s saw the introduction of the gamma camera and several companies were desperate to sell so I was wined and dined many times! We also had to compete with other hospitals for who should get the government allocated cameras. Prof Murray and I had many nerve-wracking taxi rides to the Public Works Department to sell our case. The first gamma camera had a 1” crystal and 19 PMTs in order to perform renal scans with I131 hippuran!
Radi was the computer expert initially as he had experience from the UK. He and I would spend many late nights analysing the data from magnetic tapes and 2.5 MB discs. I remember the excitement when we purchased a big floor cabinet housing a 20MB disc!!
I was very lucky to have Prof Murray as my boss as he had so much energy and enthusiasm for so many areas including Technology training and conference organising! We organised several big international meetings together culminating in the 5th World Congress in 1994 which saw the end of his career in the public system.
There was only a small group of Nuclear Medicine physicists in the teaching hospitals around Sydney and we formed a strong friendship in organising technical standards, radiation safety controls and teaching courses for many different groups both in Australia and Asia. In particular Brian Hutton and Richard Smart were great support to me and the 3 of us were on the World Congress Committee together.
My career at POWH continued until 2006 but I shall always remember those ‘pioneer’ years in the 70s and 80s as the most exciting.
Photos: Brenda at 6th World Congress in Sydney, 1994
Trained at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, New York 1984-85
Nuclear Medicine Consultant, Royal Prince Alfred 1985-88
Nuclear Medicine Consultant and Department Head, Prince of Wales Hospital 1988- Present
Vice President ANZSNM 1997-1998 and 2007-2009
Treasurer AANMS 2012-2018
Pioneer Lecturer, ANZSNM ASM 2017
Invited Speaker, Philippine Society of Nuclear Medicine 2019
I have been very fortunate to have a career in our exciting specialty. The need to keep up with our evolving specialty has been stimulating and never boring.
Attendances at conferences has always been interesting and apart from the knowledge gained there is also the development of friendships with colleagues in our specialty from around the world.
However, I would like to emphasise the importance of continuing to take a thorough history and appropriate physical examination to enable optimal Nuclear Medicine practice - these are skills essential to optimise Nuclear Medicine reporting and management of our therapy patients.
Monica (2nd from left) with Dr Stan Goldsmith (3rd from left) after she delivered an invited lecture at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medicine in April 2019
To read more on Monica's work and achievements, click HERE
Nuclear Medicine Technologist
1971 - 1974 Radioisotope Dept. NIRC, Belfast, NI
1974 - 1977 TBH, NM, New Plymouth, NZ
1977 - 1998 RPA, Sydney, NSW
1995 - 2007 Westmead Hospital, NSW
2007 - 2019 Sydney University/ANSTO
2018 Honorary Fellow of the Asian Board of Nuclear Medicine
From ‘unclear’ to ‘new clear’, from rectilinear scanning to PET-CT, science and technology has revolutionised our lives over 50 years
Initially trained mid-late ‘60’s as a Therapy Radiographer which included radioisotope dispensing, uptake and rectilinear scanning – soon after referred to as nuclear medicine. This was in Belfast, Northern Ireland, then ’74 moved to New Plymouth NM, New Zealand, and in late ’77 to Royal Prince Alfred Hosp (RPA) NM, Sydney.
Digital imaging was developing and computer data analysis evolving which attracted me to remain in the centralized computing room assisting in research with particular interest in gated heart blood pool studies. During the ‘80’s as computer integrated gamma cameras and tomography advanced, many international NM personnel had fellowship training at RPA. In ’88 the opportunity was offered to join General Electric Medical Systems (GE Asia) and relocate to Hong Kong as a NM applications specialist, which entailed travelling around Asia Pacific teaching computer acquisition and data analysis on the GE ‘Starcam’. Visiting many NM depts in the region highlighted the lack of technologist training or opportunities for relevant training. Not only is training to understand new concepts limited but often there is inadequate training in the basics in nuclear medicine and this can be a major constraint to the effective use of the evolving technology. This brought the realization of the need for technologist training in the region and to reach many NMTs in many countries.
In the early ‘90’s distance education was expanding and it seemed like an ideal method to deliver NMT training and disseminate widely and effectively. On return to RPA Sydney myself and Brian Hutton prepared a framework to offer technologist training with a high practical component and encouraging adoption of a distance learning approach that can be conducted in the participating countries by an associated network of individuals that can provide local support, so the Distance Assisted Training (DAT) programme for NM Technologists was created. In ’92 the Australian government, through ANSTO, agreed to fund the development and implementation in Asia region under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Senior NM representatives from a dozen countries in Asia formed an Advisory Board, with assistance from IAEA, to determine a syllabus and agree on implementation plans. Technical writers were mostly senior NMTs around Australia who were familiar with best practice, plus input from physicists and NM physicians.
In ’95 the project moved to Westmead Hospital NM department with their continuing support.
The DAT program has evolved from its original paper-based introduction to NM technology to the current comprehensive on-line set of training resources that includes coverage of relevant basic sciences and clinical applications, with particular attention to developments in emission tomography including SPECT/CT and PET/CT. DAT on-line (DATOL) has provided the opportunity to include interactive teaching tools and visual demonstrations as well as facilitating course management with improved communication and student support capabilities.
In 2007 a move to University of Sydney (USYD), Institute for Asia and the Pacific enabled further developments and as physicians in training found much of the advanced subjects very useful so the program changed to DAT for NM Professionals.
The extensive syllabus supports 39 subjects delivered in a logical sequence of modules involving ~900 hours of study and includes assignments, practical assessment and final examination. As most students work full time, 5 - 6 hours of study per week is required in order for students to achieve completion over a 2 - 3 year period. The structure does provide for students to complete only advanced subjects as a mechanism of updating their skills. There has been full translation to Spanish particularly for Latin America and partial translations have included Chinese, Korean, French and Japanese. Several countries have incorporated some subjects in their university NM programs e.g. South Africa for PET-CT licensing, others refer to subjects in their local teaching programs e.g. Thailand, India, Estonia. An estimated 1300 participants in 30 countries have undertaken DAT both off and on-line, it is freely available and the program continues.
2008 – 2014: The Foundations of PET-CT program through USYD/ANSTO – a 2-week comprehensive lecture program was established for up to 20 participants mostly from Asia but also Africa and Latin America plus a few local Australians. The Australian govt. Endeavour Awards sponsored some eligible attendees and assisted with extended time for 4 – 6 week attachments at several NM departments in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
2011 move to ANSTO and remain affiliated with USYD.
2016 DATOL transferred to IAEA Nucleus website with Open Access and Protected Access allowing participant assessment. Continuing to manage the original DATOL website which is still active but new cohorts of students requiring assessment are enrolled in the IAEA facility and maintaining our collaboration.
Plans are under discussion to change the format of DATOL to suit changing learning techniques utilizing more recent technological modes of delivery and less reading material - which is still useful for reference.
It has been an interesting and very rewarding career involving much travel and making many friends around the world. I wish to thank all the ‘NM team’ who helped make the achievements possible. At the 2018 WFNM&B in Melbourne, I received an honorary Fellowship to the Asian Board of Nuclear Medicine.
First Nuclear Medicine Technologist President
Nuclear Medicine Technologist Queensland
20th President of the ANZSNM, 1997-1998
Honorary Life Member ANZSNM 2005