Meet icare Brain Injury Psychiatry Fellow Dr Abirami Ratnagopal
Dr Abirami Ratnagopal is a Neuropsychiatry advanced trainee at the Calvary Mater Hospital in Newcastle and has regular clinics at the Hunter Brain Injury Service.
In 2020 she commenced as a Fellow in the icare brain injury psychiatry program, funded by the icare Foundation.
She is also currently completing dual advanced training in liaison psychiatry and old age psychiatry with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry (RANZCP).
With a neuroscience background from New Zealand, Dr Ratnagopal completed her medical degree in Queensland and has worked across many health districts in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania. She developed an interest in psychiatry and was drawn to this field due to its infancy and evolving nature compared to other specialities.
Her love of sport and fascination with the relationship between head injury and mental illness was the inspiration to pursue the icare brain injury psychiatry fellowship. Having heard about Hunter New England's well-established neuropsychiatry department, brain injury service and sports concussion clinic, she was attracted to undertaking the fellowship with such an experienced service.
Through the fellowship, Dr Ratnagopal hopes to improve knowledge of brain injury and psychiatric disorders to take those skills into her clinical practice going forward. By working with multidisciplinary teams from rehabilitation medicine, neurology and general psychiatry, she navigates the complexities of supporting individuals and their families impacted by a brain injury.
"I would like to work in the field of Neuropsychiatry in the future. The icare brain injury psychiatry fellowship has given me some of the essential skills and the opportunity to collaborate with subject matter experts in a very unique clinical and learning environment," Dr Ratnagopal.
In a typical week Dr Ratnagopal divides her time across a few sites. She sees patients with traumatic brain injury at the Hunter Brain Injury Service, Neuropsychiatry outpatient clinic at Calvary Mater Hospital and in liaison psychiatry at the John Hunter Hospital.
Additionally she sees patients with acquired brain injury, intellectual disability, stroke, functional disorders and those with neurodegenerative disorders across these settings. Amongst that, she works on her research, professional development, learning and giving lectures to junior doctors and psychiatry trainees.
Through her research Dr Ratnagopal is aiming to raise awareness about the coexistence of mental illness and traumatic brain injury. She hopes this will also lead to increased screening and assessment of traumatic brain injury within mental health services.
"Individuals with traumatic brain injury need to be supported to achieve their goals and live fulfilling lives."
"By screening and assessing for traumatic brain injury, this can help individuals with debilitating symptoms and provide education to individuals and carers about the impacts of traumatic brain injury. This can also support their return to work in some capacity, or recognise the need for further support and integration into the community," said Dr Ratnagopal
Dr Ratnagopal is positive about the research outcomes, based on the work done through this fellowship, and its potential to create a framework for assessment of traumatic brain injury by mental health professionals across Australia.
"It is an honour and a privilege to be participating in this unique program. It has enriched my understanding of traumatic brain injury psychiatry, not only in terms of the psychiatric, cognitive and behavioural symptoms, but also the impacts it has on individuals and their families/caregivers and has allowed me to support them through this life transition," said Dr Ratnagopal.