Finding Cures. Saving Children.
Pat Keel M’01 promoted to executive VP of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Thursday, October 1, 2020
pat keel speaking at podium with st. jude logo on podium

Pat Keel M’01 is a highly respected administrator in the health care field.

Keel, who earned a master’s degree in health care administration from Trinity, was recently promoted to executive vice president and chief administrative and financial officer at the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. She joined the staff of St. Jude four years ago as chief financial officer.

Her areas of responsibility involve supervision of numerous divisions at St. Jude. Pat not only oversees financial services and human resources, but she also leads environmental services; facilities design, construction, operations and maintenance; food services; biomedical engineering; and security and the gift shop.

There are some 5,000 employees at St. Jude, which treats approximately 8,500 pediatric patients annually. Research and treatment of childhood cancer and other diseases are the main focus of this organization. Once a child is admitted St. Jude pays for the transportation and housing for the patients and their families. As the announcement states on the hospital’s website, “Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing, or food, because all they should worry about is helping their child live.”

Keel says most of the children generally have done well with COVID-19. St. Jude is part of a global alliance and works with other hospitals to study the impact of the novel coronavirus. Still, the current pandemic did affect the culture of St. Jude, and Keel is at the forefront of maintaining its mission and daily operations.

“We went remote pretty quickly,” Keel says. “It was really to ensure that the core businesses held up during the transition. The biggest part was about supplies, and the ability to protect our patients, their families, and our staff members.”

Keel obtained her graduate degree from Trinity’s Health Care Administration Executive Program in 2001. In those days, it was a three-year program and consisted of 10 professionals in health care-related fields. Keel worked for the first two years of the program as the assistant administrator of Integris Health in Enid, Oklahoma, and the final year at Christus Schumpert Health System at Shreveport, Louisiana.

Students spent the first three days of each semester on Trinity’s campus, and the rest of the instruction was by remote means–by conference calls, not online as utilized today!

“The program really helped train us to look at things differently,” Keel says. “The uniqueness of the program brought a broad range of health care leaders together working on administrative skills. In our class, we had a CEO, attorneys, nurses, and a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon. We discussed a broad range of topics.”

Keel cites a number of faculty members who were influential in her time at Trinity, including Jody Rogers and the late Ted Sparling. Along her career path, Keel worked with fellow Executive Program alumnus Stan Hupfeld M’72 at Integris in Oklahoma.

The health care field has honored Pat with numerous accolades. Among the kudos is a listing for five consecutive years on the Becker’s Hospital Review list of women hospital and health system leaders to know. She also received the Healthcare Financial Management Association’s William G. Follmer Bronze Award.

But, Keel entered the health care administration field by a “self-described fluke.” She attended Arkansas State University in her hometown of Jonesboro, studying to be a nurse practitioner. Keel needed to work and found it difficult to juggle the required clinical rotation schedule. As life went on, her then-husband, a member of the U.S. Air Force, was transferred to the Philippines, interrupting her collegiate studies.

After her stint in the Philippines, Keel moved to Memphis and went to work for an investment bank, which piqued her interest in accounting. She remained in Memphis for seven years, remarried, and had a son. Keel moved back to Jonesboro in 1989 to take a controller’s job at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital and reentered Arkansas State as an accounting major. She became the chief financial officer prior to completing her degree in the late 1990s. Trinity’s master’s program was next on her agenda.

Keel has some advice for potential health care administration students.

“It’s important, if you are going to be a leader in any field, but certainly in this field, to be able to adapt to a rapidly changing environment,” Keel says. “COVID-19 is a great example. Overnight, everything about health care changed. Having that flexibility and drive to learn for the rest of your life is really important. You need to have a passion for what you do. If you don’t love what you do, at some point, you are going to be miserable.”

Alumni and friends are welcome to contact Pat at pat.keel@stjude.org.

James Hill '76 is the assistant sports information director for Trinity Athletics and voice of the Trinity Tigers.

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