Student becomes the master

Northern Hospital toxicologist Joe Rotella. (Supplied) 208444_01

By Laura Michell

A former Northern Hospital medical student has returned to the hospital to take up the role as its first toxicologist.

Dr Joe Rotella started as a medical student at the hospital in 2007 and went on to become an intern and resident. He has since worked as the clinical informatics director and assistant director of education at other health services, before returning to Northern Hospital last month.

According to Northern Health, Dr Rotella is just one of 10 toxicologists in Victoria.

Dr Rotella said his predominant role is as an emergency department 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.”

As part of his role as a toxicologist, Dr Rotella also covers toxinology – the 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 said.

Dr Rotella, who grew up in the northern suburbs, said studies have shown that when a toxicologist assists in the management of emergency department patients, their length of stay in hospital is reduced.

“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,” he said.

“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.”