Champions for Children: Meet Bert Di Paolo

Did you know it’s World Photography Day today? 

On August 19, 1839, the French government purchased the patent to the daguerreotype camera and made it free to use for the entire world. People working in medicine soon realised the potential of photography to assist with patient care, and the Clinical Photography Department at the RCH was officially established in 1934.

We caught up with Bert Di Paolo, our Senior Clinical Photographer and latest Champion for Children, to find out more about the best parts of the role.

What do clinical photographers do?
Our department at the RCH comprises three medical photographers, Alvin, Robert and myself. We cover three areas – 2D Clinical Photography, 3D imaging and editorial photography. Our role is to image, document and monitor everything from patient medical conditions, medical procedures and research projects to staff portraits, publications and events.

Why is it important for a hospital to have clinical photographers on hand?
It is essential that a patient’s condition is photographed and documented in a timely and professional manner before any changes occur. We are also on call 24/7 to document ‘out of hours’ time critical clinical images.

What does a typical day in the life of a clinical photographer look like?
We spend a lot of our time in the Clinical photography and 3D imaging studios with patients. Also, we take images for non-clinical and communications requirements. Due to the nature of our work, we can find ourselves taking images anywhere in the hospital – in wards, the operating theatre, specialist clinics or in the emergency department.

What kind of medical procedures and conditions need to be photographed?
Any condition that can be seen or anything that changes over time needs to be documented. This includes everything from plastics, orthotics and dentistry to orthopaedics, dermatology and burns management.

How did your career in clinical photography begin?
All three of us hold a Bachelor of Applied Science (Photography) which combines our interests in photography and science. This degree is a prerequisite for medical photography.

What is the best part of your job?
It’s very rewarding working with patients at the RCH. We can all learn a lot from the bravery and resilience they show. We all work together as a team to provide better outcomes for our patients.

What kind of skills and attributes does someone need to be a clinical photographer?
The ability to assess a situation quickly and put people at ease. This is particularly important in highly emotional environments.

Not many people enjoy having their photos taken, how do you put patients at ease?
We need to make the patient and family feel comfortable by interacting with them at their level. It’s important to introduce ourselves and clearly explain what we are going to do, and why. Many of the patients we see are imaged from birth to their teen years, so we build a rapport with them over time.

How do you see the role of a clinical photographer developing in the future?
We have seen many changes over the years. We began our careers using film such as black and white, colour slide and negative and made photographic prints that were mounted into the paper medical records. The conversion to digital has allowed us to set up an online clinical viewer that has been integrated with the EMR, and setup one of the world’s first paediatric clinical 3D imaging centres. We have evolved to use technology to enhance the services we deliver and stay up-to-date with state-of-the-art imaging techniques.

You can find out more about the history of clinical photography at the RCH on our Archives and Collections page.



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