William (Bill) McCartney, MD
As long-time Nuclear Medicine Division Chief Dr. William (“Bill”) McCartney begins phased retirement, he eases out of a department, hospital system and field that have evolved fundamentally since his appointment in 1976. In McCartney’s 37+ years as full-time faculty, the Department of Radiology has grown from three to nine clinical divisions and been led by three Chairs, UNC Health Care has grown from one to five hospitals, and imaging itself has advanced beyond the analog- and modality-focused environment that he joined upon arriving at UNC.
“In the mid-1970s, UNC Hospitals consisted only of the 1950s-built Old Clinic and Old Infirmary that now house the Department’s administrative offices. Nuclear Medicine had yet to move into its long-term home, our ’70s-built Imaging Division facility, and our entire Diagnostic Radiology clinical faculty numbered less than a dozen. The Department’s clinical care divided only into Imaging, General Radiology and Vascular-Interventional Radiology at that time.”
As imaging modernized beyond his first decade at UNC, McCartney’s clinical practice in a large hospital setting kept pace. Tapped to head the Imaging Division only three years after joining the Department, McCartney oversaw the rapid growth of his division in equipment and faculty, as well as its increasing transition to computers in easing away from analog toward digital imaging.
“When I started in 1976, essentially all of our imaging studies were done on film. Many clinicians sequestered films in their offices or clinic areas, and one of referring physicians’ most common complaints at that time was not being able to locate a patient’s films.”
As McCartney’s new scope of patient cases broadened to covering Nuclear Medicine, CT and Body MRI, he found himself routinely shopping for imaging equipment at major professional meetings. For each acquisition of multi-million dollar imaging equipment used by his division, McCartney actively contributed to Certificate of Need (CON) applications and planning for space changes. He also became a key player behind developing UNC Health Care’s Scatliff MRI Center, as well as UNC’s second MRI system that has played a fundamental role in the Department’s present-day biomedical imaging activities.
As such, McCartney’s build-up of equipment to run a strong clinical division not only supported departmental research, but also allowed him to pursue his own research interests. In collaborating with UNC’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, McCartney provided the primary clinical input for NIH-funded research on SPECT technology and the emerging image reconstruction methods associated with it. Along the way, he built University research relationships with imaging giants GE and Siemens and drove publishing research results in numerous journals.
The nature of McCartney’s diagnostic practice was also affected when he was named Chief of the newly formed Nuclear Medicine Division in the early 1990s at a time when departmental divisions were structurally reorganized toward organ systems rather than modalities. As McCartney established a clinical and research presence in his field, he also built a strong didactics base as director of Nuclear Medicine residency and fellowship programs for almost 30 years. New imaging modalities tied to Nuclear Medicine were increasingly attracting diagnostic radiology residents starting their training, and McCartney accommodated such learning interests through creating a fellowship program extending additional Nuclear Medicine, CT and US training to graduating radiology residents.
In October 2010, McCartney’s accomplishments in his field earned him the Marshall Brucer Award for Distinguished Service, the highest honor of the Southeastern Chapter of the Society of Nuclear Medicine. Reflecting on his career achievements over the years, McCartney noted: “During my time leading the Imaging and Nuclear Medicine Divisions, I’ve been particularly proud of having contributed to expanding our facilities and acquiring a range of imaging equipment. I am also proud of the part I played in training Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine residents and fellows over the years.”
Dr. James Scatliff, Department Chair from 1966 to 1991, hired McCartney in 1976: “Dr. McCartney’s recruitment brought much-needed Nuclear Medicine expertise to the Department and medical center. He led the way for dual-gamma camera imaging and acquiring space for the machines in [UNC Hospitals’] Old Clinic area and was also an excellent proponent through the years for radio-isotope assessment of pulmonary embolism with gamma camera studies. Our present work combining CT and nuclide (PET) scanning has gone forward well thanks to his leadership. Due to McCartney’s strong interest in teaching, our radiology residents and fellows have also taken superior nuclear medicine information into their private or academic practices.
Bill is a pleasant, interesting physician and fellow man. I enjoyed working with him a great deal as the head of Nuclear Medicine during my chairmanship.”
Scatliff Distinguished Professor of Radiology Dr. Joseph KT Lee chaired the Department for 15 years (1991-2006) during McCartney’s time on faculty: "Few academicians have been able to serve as leaders of a large division for such a long time. Dr. McCartney's amiable personality and consultative approach has allowed him to lead by building consensus among a diverse group of people. His business acumen has also served him well to sense the direction of technology development and to provide expertise in helping the hospital acquire cutting-edge technology on favorable terms."
Current Chair Dr. Matt Mauro reflected: “Dr. McCartney has dedicated his entire professional career to the Department of Radiology at the University of North Carolina. We are indebted to him for his leadership, consistency and professional demeanor.”