CONFERENCE CALL INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM OTTE, JR.
SWCSNM-TS President - 1975,
January 26, 2005
MR. METZGER: This is Charlie Metzger; I'll be assisting Bobby Brown during this interview. We are interviewing Bill Otte regarding his experience in nuclear medicine.
MR. BROWN: How did you first become involved with the Southwestern Chapter of the Society of Nuclear Medicine?
BILL OTTE: I got involved in nuclear medicine in September of 1961 when I first came to work at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in what was then called the radioisotope laboratory which was part of the department of radiology. In late 1962, early '63, UTMB formed what was called the Nuclear Medicine Clinic, and that was a consolidation of those faculty people using radionuclides to do various exams on patients.
The hematologists, for example, were doing the blood volume studies; the endocrinologists were doing the thyroid work; and, the radiologists were only doing some blood bench-work-type tests, triolein, oleic acid tests etc. We started doing some work on the labeling of red cells for triiodothyronine analysis but really never got too far in that process. Around that time, the Nuclear Medicine Clinic was formed, and Dr. Tom Haynie was hired to be the first Director of Nuclear Medicine here at UTMB.
Tom did his training with Dr. Bill Beierwaltes in Michigan, and came here to head up the new nuclear medicine laboratory. Tom made me the supervisor of the laboratory because I had more experience than the other people. Tom was a very young, energetic person, right out of training with Dr. Beierwaltes, and he was active in the Society of Nuclear Medicine. He encouraged me to go with him to our first meeting together in Montreal in 1963.
Tom was just a great guy, and he took me under his wing and introduced me to a lot of people in the Society and particularly some of the other technologists around the country. With his guidance and leadership, he encouraged me to get involved and to communicate with those people and exchange ideas and information. When we returned to Galveston, he suggested we continue this dialogue, and he introduced me to Dr. Herb Allen and Dr. Phil Johnson, who were nuclear medicine physicians in Houston. I was then introduced to some of their technologists: Theda Driscoll, Al Garza, and others.
The Galveston/Houston group decided to start meeting on an informal basis. I'd bring my technologists, and we'd go to Houston or they'd come down here. Then we started going to the Chapter meetings, and so that's how we all got involved in the Chapter activities.
Soon I got interested in the politics and activities of the Society. We recognized that it would be beneficial to have some type of organization, some type of status, some type of a program at the Chapter level so that the local people could come and exchange ideas and information and do scientific presentations of the work that they were doing. We began talking to the Chapter leadership then. I don't remember exactly who was in what position at that time, but there were a lot of people that we worked with and tried to encourage to sponsor a technologist society. It did not meet very favorably at first. I think the organization, at that time, was more physician-driven, and I don't know that they appreciated the value we, as technologists, would have for the subspecialty. They were busy enough taking care of themselves and didn't have the time to take care of a new group of people within the organization.
At the National meeting, a group of us started met and discussed how we could promote the field of Nuclear Medicine Technology. There were some technologists from Chicago that had already formed a local group and called themselves the Society of Nuclear Medicine Technologists. This group decided to approach the leadership of the National Society of Nuclear Medicine and each chapter representative could speak on behalf of their chapter to see if we could encourage the National Society of Nuclear Medicine Board of Directors to establish a nuclear medicine technology organization under the umbrella of SNM.
We met in Miami with Dr. Beierwaltes. I believe he was the President at the time, and there was a group of members of the Board of Trustees that we met with. They weren't very inclined to support Nuclear Medicine Technology directly. I'm not sure how the politics evolved, but instead of sponsoring a separate society, they decided to form a Section within the Society of Nuclear Medicine. That's how we became known as the Technologist Section because they wanted to keep us involved under the umbrella of SNM. We were given the right to meet as a group, to have scientific meetings and make presentations, and we also got involved in the training of technologists..
MR. BROWN: And when did this happen?
BILL OTTE: I guess it was in the early '70s. It was about that time that the Section really got organized within the Chapter, and we started having breakout sessions at the Chapter meetings for all the technologists. These were separate programs and program chairs, and it really just kind of took off from that.
I was President of the Society of Nuclear Medicine Technologist group prior to the Technologist Section or SNM being formed. I became a member of the first Joint Commission on Nuclear Medicine Technology Training, the AMA Educational Programs Committee. I was on that commission from 1970 until about 1974.
It was a great time. The field was new, and there were a lot of new and exciting things happening. There were a lot of people out there eager for information and the exchange of ideas and techniques. So we shared a lot of that information in some of the early meetings. It sounds a bit primitive now, but during all that time there were no formal training programs. I ended up going to Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies for a post graduate course. That's how I got my background and formal training in the use of radionuclides and radiation physics.
MR. BROWN: I guess during that time if you had a physicist, you worked under them?
BILL OTTE: Yes, absolutely. Our physicist was Lucas Beentjes. Luke was from Holland, and he was very active with some of the radiologists. When they formed the Nuclear Medicine Clinic here, we still had some staffing done by radiologists as well as Tom Haynie who was actually an Internist. That uniting of the medical specialties to form the subspecialty of nuclear medicine was quite unique.
MR. BROWN: Yes. You covered that well. One of my questions was about the formation of the Technologist Section. Can you remember any disappointments, failures, or disasters that might come to mind or that you wish had been done differently?
BILL OTTE: Well, at the time, I thought we didn't do very well in terms of forming a separate Society of Nuclear Medicine Technologists group. I thought that was an important thing to do. The Society of Nuclear Medicine Technologists did pretty well for two or three years until the Society of Nuclear Medicine decided to form the Technologist Section. Then of course, all the emphasis, involvement and attention went from the SNMT group to SNM's Technologists Section group. So we were a little disappointed that we didn't have a true technologist society. Other than that, the technologists received a lot of great support from many of the physicians. I remember the Maxfields up in Dallas: J. R. and William, I think. When they became leaders in the Chapter, they made sure they promoted the Technologist Section, so things have a way of working themselves out.
MR. BROWN: You mentioned Dr. Haynie. He’s certainly one of our central figures, and he’s still involved with the Chapter.
BILL OTTE: Oh yes, Tom Haynie was quite a guy.
MR. BROWN: Are there any other people that you can remember back in the Chapter leadership?
BILL OTTE: Well, Herb Allen, Phil Johnson, the Maxfields, of course. John Hidalgo and Craig Harris were in our Chapter at one time, but they moved around. They were both in New Orleans at one time or another, and then they moved over to the Southeastern Chapter in North Carolina somewhere. Those guys were very instrumental in promoting technology, scientific programs and education.
MR. BROWN: Can you think of any stories about technologists that worked in the area at the time?
BILL OTTE: There was Don Bernier who was in St. Louis and Paul Early at the Cleveland Clinic and later Johns Hopkins. Both were instrumental in technological activities.
MR. BROWN: Paul Early?
BILL OTTE: Yes, I think he ended up at Hopkins. I can't remember other names just now but some of these people were together at the National meetings and helped developed the Section and the training courses.
MR. BROWN: I know Paul. He's real interesting. He has a collection of old objects related to radiation. He has a radon jar and an old fluoro foot-pedal and other things like that.
BILL OTTE: Ray Dielman was another person that was active in developing the Technologist Section, more at the National level rather than at the Chapter level.
MR. BROWN: Can you identify anything that makes the Southwestern Chapter special or unique?
BILL OTTE: Well, I think by virtue of being from the South, we’re a friendly group of people that get along pretty well and are pretty open in our discussions and sharing of information, and we have great places to have scientific meetings. I think the friendly atmosphere at our meetings makes the Chapter special.
MR. BROWN: I have heard that when they were first starting, the group in Dallas and the group in New Orleans used to compete to see who could get the most people at their meetings.
BILL OTTE: Yes, we used to have competitions on that. There was a prize given as a matter of fact. I can't remember what it was now. There was a percentage membership attendance at the Chapter meetings. It was just a fun time. We worked hard during the meetings, and then we had nice, fun parties after the scientific meetings, so everything worked out good.
MR. METZGER: I just had an interview this morning with Howard Glenn who was a pioneer in the field of nuclear radiopharmaceuticals. He worked for Abbott Labs, and during the first few years of his career, there were only three schools that were teaching radiopharmacy. He mentioned the year that he was president, 1972. The meeting was in El Paso and that they crossed over the border and watched the dog races, and there was a race dedicated to the Southwestern Chapter, and a race dedicated to the president of the Southwestern Chapter.
BILL OTTE: Yes, I remember that, absolutely. That was a great meeting and a fun time for everybody. The technologists got some unique recognition at that meeting. There were fun things that you remember, and there was also the interesting scientific information that we exchanged and experiences we shared. For example, when we started doing imaging in '63/'64, we got our first Picker rectilinear scanner. It was a three-inch crystal scanner with a teledeltos paper printout, and then we used I-131 HSA to do brain scans. And it worked. We found tumors and other pathologies, and then we switched over to Mercury-203 chloromerdrin. Then 197 Mercury chloromerdrin came along, and then Technetium Pertechnetate in the oral form. Those were some interesting times -- handling the radiopharmaceuticals and making sure that you didn't have spills and contaminations.
MR. BROWN: Yes. I remember when they went to that multi ink-dot Picker paper, and you could get color printouts.
BILL OTTE: That was a real breakthrough, we thought.
MR. BROWN: They thought that was great.
BILL OTTE: As the patient’s activity would increase, the ribbon would automatically shift over toward red, red being the hottest area. It printed out color paper images that were just fantastic, really great.
MR. BROWN: Now when I show the rectilinear scanners to students, they just look at these big blobs and have no idea what they're looking at.
BILL OTTE: Yes. I've got to tell you a funny story about Walter Durham regarding that; Walter, was such a great guy. Right after we got our first rectilinear scanner, he wanted to learn so badly how to do all these exams. When he wasn't transporting patients, he would come to me while I was working, acquiring images and labeling films and all this stuff, so he could learn.
He got to the point where I could trust him to do some things on his own, and so we were doing a brain scan on this patient one time. It was a female, and I went to another room to do something else, and I came back, and as I came into the imaging room, Walter had taken this lady's wig off and had set it on top of the probe. As the scanner was moving back and forth, the wig was moving back and forth across the patient's head. I looked at Walter and he looked at me, and then he realized what he had done, and it was just hilarious. He was really embarrassed about it.
MR. BROWN: Oh, I bet. I bet he was embarrassed for weeks.
BILL OTTE: That was a funny story. I'll never forget that about Walter. “Oh, Mr. Otte, I'll never do that again. I'm sorry. I didn't think what that would look like.” I guess the expression on my face is just what set him off or something. I don't know. Fun times.
MR. BROWN: Do you think your terms in leadership with the Chapter helped prepare you for your career as you advanced and in your activities now?
BILL OTTE: Oh, absolutely. Up until the time that I became active in the Society, I had never had any experience with getting things done and planning events. I was the President of the fraternity in college, but that was more social than professional. The Chapter helped me develop in that regard, and also helped me develop as a public speaker. It got me in front of people, and I felt comfortable sharing scientific and technical information to such a measure that I think they understood most of what I was saying, and I hope that I understood what I was telling them.
Involvement with the Chapter prepared me for leadership roles here at the hospital and in other organizations that I've been involved with since. I was a pretty young kid getting into nuclear medicine back in those days, and I was also a member of the National Guard. I went on to get a commission and ended up being the Commander of the Security Police right there at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston. Then I got involved in the Knights of Columbus and was a Grand Knight there; and the Boy Scouts. I was President of the Bay Area Council here, but I think the start of all that for me was my leadership experience and working in the Chapter. So, yes, I think that gave me the experience for my professional career and personal life.
MR. BROWN: You've been in the management area there in the radiology for how many years?
BILL OTTE: Too many years to admit! I became the Technical Director of Nuclear Medicine, and I did that for 19 years, and then since 1980, I've been the Administrator for the Department of Radiology. All together, I’ve been here for 40-something years.
MR. BROWN: I know that you're over Radiology, and the Nuclear Medicine Department is still under that department. Do you have any insight or any ideas what future direction nuclear medicine might be going in or where it might go to?
BILL OTTE: Well, we're excited finally because we're going to get a PET scanner here soon. We've been working on this for a time. I worked on this when I was over Nuclear Medicine, and in those days you had to have your own cyclotron or it just wasn't a feasible. Now you can get pharmaceuticals as they are reasonably available and at a reasonable price. I think PET is an exciting thing, and to be honest, I haven't been involved a lot with Nuclear Medicine lately. I don't know some of the more interesting radionuclides or procedures they're doing. I know some of the Nuclear Medicine work has been replaced by CT and MR, and so they're looking for new radiopharmaceuticals and new antibodies that they can label that would help do some interesting things.
MR. BROWN: Radioimmunotherapy is another big area of interest. As far as MR and CT replacing nuclear medicine, you know that when CT came along, they pretty well said nuclear medicine is going to be gone -- and they ended up down the hall from us. Then MR came along. Again, they said “Oh, well, it's all over now.” MRI is here, and they're further down the hall -- and we're still around. Now they're making machines with CT and nuclear medicine instruments both in one machine.
BILL OTTE: Yes, really. That's why we're getting our PET/CT scanner. And, of course, there’s always thyroid disease. No one has come up with a better treatment, I don't think, for thyroid cancer or hyperthyroidism than I-131. Sodium iodine still works well.
MR. BROWN: Right, and we're still the only group that does pure physiology. There's physiology involved in the others, but we're the ones that do the pure stuff.
BILL OTTE: Absolutely.
MR. BROWN: Anyway, do you have anything else to add? Charlie any other questions?
MR. METZGER: I do. I'm trying to understand that process of the development of the Technologist Section. We interviewed Tom Haynie, and I'll just read a few sentences from it. I asked, “What are the highlights of your time with the Chapter that make you most proud?” And he answered that it was the development of the Technologist Section.
BILL OTTE: Absolutely. He was a key player in that process.
MR. METZGER: He says Merrill Bender recruited him for a task at National because of his experience at the Chapter level.
BILL OTTE: That was because he helped us within the Chapter before the National organization agreed to establish a section. He got the technologists together here in the Southwestern Chapter. He was the one that helped us organize the local meetings at the chapter level. Merrill Bender was the President, and people had begun to ask him to investigate the possibility of some type of technologist organization within the national framework. Because of Tom's experience, Merrill asked him to be the leader of this newly formed group. Tom pulled in various technologists, from around the country and the group was formed. Tom did the organizational planning and the structure of the sections and the chapters.
MR. METZGER: So the Southwestern Chapter was supportive of the technologists within its region?
BILL OTTE: Absolutely.
MR. METZGER: And that helped in getting organized?
BILL OTTE: Yes, they did this before the Section was even formed. They recognized the need, at the chapter level, probably more so here than most other chapters. As a matter of fact, because of people like Tom Haynie, Phil Johnson and Herb Allen, they all recognized that they needed technologists to help do the work that they wanted and needed to do. The way to do that was by having a core of well-trained, knowledgeable, experienced people working together to do some of these things they were trying to get accomplished, and the way to do that was to have an organization where they could all come together, meet and exchange ideas and information. So we started doing that informally at the Southwestern Chapter.
There was no name or any organizational structure. They just started having parts of the Chapter meeting dedicated to technologists. While physicians were meeting, the technologists met. That led to the propagation of the theory that the technologists ought to be a part of the Society of Nuclear Medicine; and then when it came up at the National level, Tom referred to his experiences here to show how well it worked. The group then built the structure that has formed the Section as it is known today. Tom was a tremendous, tremendous guy.
BILL OTTE: I'm trying to think of some of the technologists in the Dallas area that were strong leaders. Somebody named Graham was one.
MR. METZGER: There's a Gary Wood.
BILL OTTE: Gary Wood. Gary was a very instrumental person, along with Vern Ficken. Vern, Gary, and I, if you had to pull leadership into the Chapter, we were probably the three key people that worked together. Vern was in Oklahoma. Gary was in the Dallas area, and I was in the Galveston/Houston area. Actually Gary was down here for a while.
MR. METZGER: Well, that worked very nicely, though, geographically.
BILL OTTE: Yes, absolutely. It worked out super, and we pulled in people from all areas to come to the meetings and that sort of thing. That worked out really well.
MR. BROWN: I think our structure is really unusual. You don't find places with physicians, scientists and technologists all grouped together. And so it makes it very unusual, but there are advantages to it also. From the technologist point of view, the clout of the physicians helps promote society objectives. From a physician point of view, pure numbers help a whole lot.
BILL OTTE: That's where I see the link that's missing in the radiology field. The X-ray technologists and the physicians aren't a close knit group. The people in Nuclear Medicine are, and so I think the way our organization is structured brings everybody together under essentially one umbrella. This has built a stronger communication link, a more bonding-type of an atmosphere to perpetuate our field and career. I think it's just a really good way to do that.