For more than 30 years Dr Keith Piper has been leading and developing pioneering research in Diagnostic Radiography, playing a key role in the development of clinical reporting by radiographers since its inception in the mid-1990s. He has presented at academic conferences across the globe, and has been awarded the Fellowship of the Society and College of Radiographers in recognition of his outstanding contribution to radiography.

This autumn Keith will also be awarded the highest honour the Society of Radiographers can bestow the Gold Medal award. 

Keith retires next month after joining Canterbury Christ Church University in 1989 teaching thousands of students in radiography over the years.

He qualified as a radiographer in 1978 after training at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital.

Speaking about his early career, Keith said: “One of my first jobs was a porter in the X-ray department in 1973 but I didn’t have the necessary qualifications, so I started evening classes and commenced radiography training in 1975. Having worked in several hospitals in Bristol and Kent, I was fortunate to secure a position as a clinical tutor back at the School of Radiography in Canterbury in 1987.

“Originally, we were employed by the regional health authority but in 1989 all of radiographer education moved into higher education and around the same time radiography became a graduate profession."

Canterbury Christ Church University started out as a teacher training college in the 1960s in response to a national shortage of teachers. It developed its programmes and in the early 1970s first degree programmes and Bachelor of Education was introduced and in the late 1980s health-related professional courses began.

The University became the first to offer an accredited Postgraduate programme in clinical reporting in 1994.  

"You would think it is the most normal thing for a radiographer to do, to report on the images, but that was not possible again until the early nineties," Keith said. 

“The Government policy, in the early 1990s changed the way of working which enabled many healthcare professionals to adopt wider roles, as a result, our first course was started in 1994. It gave radiographers the ability to report formally on the images and we recruited nationally, and people came to the University from all over the UK. When the clinical reporting opportunity came up people were excited – it was something that many radiographers wanted to do all of their professional lives.”

But it wasn’t all plain sailing as Keith explains.

“There was some opposition from doctors, radiologists, but equally there was a lot of support and we worked with radiologists to develop the curriculum and deliver it.”

Keith wrote several papers subsequent to the successful completion of the first cohorts of reporting radiographers, which evidenced the ability of radiographers to report Accident and Emergency radiographs.

He was also principal investigator for an NHS executive-funded research project which noted that key to the success of radiographer reporting was appropriate high-quality education, research into the benefits of such practice, to service delivery and maintenance of performance in reporting standards.

The University started its journey into radiography reporting with Maidstone Hospital and at the time the majority of casualty X-rays were unreported. Fractures and injuries were allegedly missed. Keith says this was the ‘driving force to improve patient care and speed of report'.

Speaking about the development and accreditation of the first successful Postgraduate Clinical Reporting programme at Christ Church, Keith said: “It is a privilege. It really was because nobody else in world had the role I had at that time, and I was fortunate to be the Programme Director for more than twenty years.

“Because it was so interesting, novel and innovative, we published our papers and our teams of people who have been involved over the years have been fantastic.

“Quite soon after, we developed more education and training programmes which prepared radiographers to report chest X-rays; which are very complicated. We have also helped to provide supporting research to evidence the difference this can make to patient care.”

Keith has supported and inspired many colleagues in clinical practice and in his work as a lecturer at Christ Church. He encouraged image interpretation at all levels, delivering “red dot” style courses on site in hospitals at locations across the UK and has also developed short courses for local practitioners. These courses enable health care professionals who assess trauma radiographs in a trauma setting.

Keith has also published data supporting the role for radiographers with evidence to demonstrate performance in the academic setting as well as clinical practice. Collaborative research with other colleagues has ensured the evidence base for this is extensive despite considerable resistance.

“Nick Wotznitza one of my PhD students and he has been hugely successful partly due to his work in chest reporting, - some of that work is world-renowned.”

Talking about how the course has changed over the years, Keith explained the basic principles have remained.

“Our programme is work-based learning and involves radiologists,” he said.

“But what has made us stand out from other universities is the assessment structure we have always used reporting on patients’ X-rays. Over the years we have branched out radiographer reporting CT scans and MRI scans and we’re still the only University in the world to offer MRI reporting courses to the extent that we do.”

Keith’s academic roles include Professional Lead for Radiography and Director of Postgraduate Studies for the Faculty of Health and Social Care. He became the Programme Director for the new postgraduate programme in clinical reporting in 1994, where he held this position until 2015 when he continued work at the University, but part-time supporting the new programme director and working with masters research students.

When asked what he thinks are his main successes, Keith is modest in his response.

“I would say probably my MSc was a high point for me. That was a significant time when we had started the reporting programme. In my career and the profession.

“When I finished my PhD was really significant and there has been many other high points. I have presented in every continent, and it’s been fantastic. Another highlight was being asked to attend the Queen’s Garden Party in 2016 to represent Christ Church.  

More than ten members of the Society of Radiographers supported the application and six professionals submitted testimonials including four professors external to Christ Church, contributed to Keith’s Gold Medal Award from the Society of Radiographers. One affectionately termed Keith “the godfather of radiography reporting.” 

Speaking on receiving the award, Keith added: “It’s a real honour to be recognised by your peers and colleagues in this way, as I head towards retirement."

Keith retires in August and is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, children and grand-children, dog walking and gardening.

“Christ Church has served me very well and I found it has been a supportive environment and enabled me and others to work differently and innovatively and that flexibility is quite rare,” he said.

“It’s being able to work in different ways which enabled us to do what we did. I am very grateful.”