Northern Health recently welcomed its first toxicologist, Dr Joe Rotella, who worked at Northern Health as a medical student back in 2007 and went on to become an intern and a resident here.
Having previously held roles as Director of Clinical Informatics and Assistant Director of Education at other health services, Dr Rotella brings a wealth of knowledge to Northern Health – being one of only 10 toxicologists in Victoria. His mix of research, education and medical skills and roles keep him very busy, but he enjoys variety and sees it as “the spice of life”.
Dr Rotella’s predominant role is as an emergency department (ED) physician but his passion is clinical toxicology.
“Toxicologists are medical specialists who look after patients for whom poisoning is an issue. Most typically we see patients who have overdosed,” he said.
“Other patients we might see are paediatrics – kids are very good at exploring surroundings and getting into places their parents think they might not be able to get into, so we do also look after a lot of accidental overdoses,” he added.
As part of his role as a toxicologist, Dr Rotella also covers toxinology – management of snake bites, spider bites and marine envenomation.
“We also see and treat patients who have been poisoned with heavy metals. They are rare but there are cases we have managed in previous years of lead and arsenic particularly. So we cover a pretty broad spectrum.”
Dr Rotella says studies have shown when someone from the toxicology team assists in the management of patients in the ED, length of stay is reduced and quality of care is improved.
“Part of my coming across to Northern is to explore opportunities in that space. Northern Health sees a very diverse group of patients culturally, as well as from a medical point of view.”
“In toxicology we see a lot of patients for whom mental health is a pretty significant aspect. As we work towards more advances in terms of how we give patients more targeted, specific care from a mental health point of view, there’s a big role for toxicology at Northern.”
Dr Rotella has always had a strong connection to the northern community – “I’m a northern suburbs boy. I grew up in Northcote and Panch was our community hospital. I even got married next door to the hospital at The Manor.”
From his earlier years at Northern Health, Dr Rotella remembers the staff members who trained him and shaped him as a doctor.
“A lot of the ED physicians taught me procedures as a medical student and intern. Phyllis, one of the ED physicians, taught me how to do an arterial blood gas. Another ED physician, Cynthia, talked me through my first lumbar puncture. Stefan, one of the other ED physicians helped me do my first shoulder relocation – so a lot of those procedures you learn as a doctor, I’ve learnt here.”
“One of the ANUMs in ED even lives next door to my parents, so I’ve known her since I was 10 years old!”
Dr Rotella says his favourite part about working at Northern Health so far is the culture and can-do attitude.
“We’ve got lots of patients to look after, and thinking about the best way to give them care is at the forefront. That sense of innovation and ownership in a whole-of-hospital approach has been really good and really affirms why I’ve come to Northern Health.”
Dr Rotella is passionate about toxicology education and training, and in the future hopes to build a toxicology service here at Northern Health.
“I’m really keen to train some nurses in toxicology, as well as doctors, and build a service when the time is right. I’m always happy to be contacted about opportunities to develop things together and I’m really keen to synergise with what’s already out there and learn how I can help.”