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Introducing our new faculty members: Thomas Rotter

Thomas Rotter is a new member of the Faculty of Health Sciences.

This profile is part of a series highlighting some of the new faculty members who have recently joined the Queen's community as part of the Principal's faculty renewal initiative, which will see 200 new faculty members hired over five years.

Thomas Rotter (Healthcare Quality) sat down with the Gazette to talk about his experience so far. Dr. Rotter is an associate professor.

[Thomas Rotter]
Dr. Thomas Rotter joined the Queen's community in July of 2017. (University Communications)
Fast Facts about Dr. Rotter

Department: Healthcare Quality, and Nursing

Hometown: Günzburg, Germany

Alma mater: Technische Universität Dresden (public health), Erasmus University (evaluation science)

Research areas: healthcare quality, risk, and patient safety

Hobbies include: Cooking, bicycling, gardening

Dr. Rotter’s web bio
How did you decide to become a teacher?
I never thought I would be a professor, which makes me a rare species. If you told me even in my thirties that I would be a professor, I would not have believed you. 
I worked as a nurse clinician for eleven years in Germany in a variety of settings before deciding to go back to university to complete my PhD. While completing my doctorate, I connected with the Cochrane Collaboration – this is like a dating agency for those involved in evidence-based practice and medicine. Through this, I met my mentor – Dr. Leigh Kinsman in Australia – and we started doing research together. He taught me about how to successfully apply for high-level research grants, how to publish, and he helped me overcome my anxiety about these things.
He is still my most important collaborator and friend, and my mentor – before I make any important decisions, such as taking this job at Queen’s, I am always consulting him. My passion for research led me to academia, and I ended up loving it.
How did you end up in Canada?
In 2012, I applied for a research chair position at the University of Saskatchewan in health quality improvement science, and I was accepted. During my time there, my wife and I had our daughter – she’s now four years old. So we are now working on our citizenship applications and intending to stay in Canada. I decided after five years of this wonderful chair position that I should go for a faculty position so I could have more time with my daughter.
With this faculty position at Queen’s, teaching is about 35 per cent of my job and I really love it. One course I teach is about research and evaluation methods in health quality, risk, and safety. It is delivered in a hybrid format as part of a two-year masters course. Students are here twice for a week, and the rest is delivered online.
It was a bit of a challenge in the start, but it is going really well and I am looking forward to more teaching – as well as bringing more of my research from Saskatchewan here.
Tell us a bit about your research. Why is it important?
All of my research has a common aim – to cut down the time it takes for a new discovery in healthcare to arrive at the patient’s bedside. I am considering both the patient outcomes, as well as the knowledge and ability of the healthcare professionals – ensuring they are using the best available knowledge to treat their patients. All of my research is of an applied nature. I am doing loads of different stuff because my scope is broad. It applies to every discipline in primary and hospital care.
Some of my research focuses on clinical pathways – interventions which are aimed at guiding evidence-based practice and improving the interactions between health services. I have worked on pathway projects in Canada and internationally as a way to standardize the way we provide care for patients with cancer, pediatric asthma, gastroenteritis, heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to improve both their quality of life and life expectancy – but primarily focusing on quality of care.
I also want to do some research into suicide prevention, going back to my time as a psych nurse. The numbers are terrible, and we have to do something.
My skills are generally applicable as long as I work with content experts. I am currently working with a lung doctor on a project in Saskatchewan to implement and evaluate a clinical pathway for COPD patients in Regina.
How did you become passionate about healthcare quality?
This area is under-researched, when compared to basic research, and it is truly multidisciplinary by nature. Some innovations make it into the care setting quicker and we don’t know why. It can be the political climate, the context, or just the right timing – what I know is that we don’t know.
We spend billions of dollars every year to create ‘me too’ drugs that are almost the same as existing drugs – if we instead focused more on quality and ensuring medical knowledge and cutting-edge products made it into the care setting faster, this would save lives and have a much greater effect. This principle applies to every sector of medicine.
Another project you have worked on relates to simulating patient deterioration. What is that?
This is a project I worked on in Australia, which I would like to bring to Canada to test the transferability. We picked two hospitals in Australia and used face-to-face simulations to test nurses’ knowledge and skills on patient deterioration before and after the training, and in two other hospitals we used web-based video simulations. I was a strong believer in face-to-face simulation. I have a background as a health economist, and Dr. Kinsman asked me to do the cost analysis.
We found that both formats were as effective at increasing nurses’ knowledge, and that over time web-based delivery gets cheaper. It is costly at the start but after about 100 nurse trainees you hit the break-even point. I hope to test the findings next year in Canada.
[Thomas Rotter]
Dr. Rotter holds up a picture of his daughter. (University Communications)
What do you think of Kingston?
It was a very good trade – the best thing my family and I have done since moving to Canada. Though we had a wonderful time in Saskatchewan, this is the right opportunity for us and it is closer to Europe so I can visit my family in Germany. It is a magnificent town. It is the right size, and every time I drive home from Toronto I am happy to be coming back – though it is nice to visit Toronto too and take in the sights.
What you might not know is Saskatchewan has no passenger trains, and being from Europe I am so used to that. I appreciate the trains here. I am regularly going to Ottawa or Toronto…I can work. It’s almost like being back home.
What do you do for fun?
I am a hobby chef. I enjoy cooking from country to country – the more exotic the better. Most of the stuff I like is from Africa or the Caribbean. I never cook for myself – I love to cook for guests, and cooking together.
I also love to bike – I lived in the Netherlands for six years and my wife and I both fluently speak Dutch. I recently went to a conference in Amsterdam and the first thing I did was get a bike – I would bike from the hotel to the conference. My Canadian colleagues looked at me and asked, “Are you biking?” and I said, “Yes, every morning – it’s nice guys!” “Is this considered to be safe?” they asked. They took a cab or the tram.
I am also a hobby gardener. What I like about gardening is to grow your own vegetables. Having your own veggie garden is the only way to know what you are eating, and it is a great workout.

Faculty Renewal

Principal Daniel Woolf has identified faculty renewal as a high priority for reinvestment by the university in support of the academic mission. The five-year renewal plan, launched in 2017, will see 200 new faculty hired, which nearly doubles the hiring pace of the previous six years.

Faculty renewal supports Queen’s commitment to diversity and inclusion by giving the university the opportunity to seek, proactively, representation from equity-seeking groups such as women, people with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, and racialized individuals. It will also build on Queen’s current areas of research strength.

To learn more about the Principal’s faculty renewal plans, read this Gazette article. Stay tuned for additional new faculty profiles in the Gazette.