Healthcare professional Carleen Ong shares fascinating details about her job, which centres on performing specialised diagnostic examinations on patients.

Sonographer Carleen Ong

Sonographer Carleen OngWay before the first patient arrives at Thomson Medical Centre, Carleen Ong’s work day has already started.

As a sonographer with the hospital’s Diagnostic Imaging team, she’ll check that the ultrasound machine is working in the procedure room and the network is connected. She then uses sanitiser wipes to clean all the transducers or probes.

Ong, who sees up to 15 patients a day, has been a sonographer for 10 years. Because of her interest in biology, she decided to further her studies in diagnostic radiography. It was during her attachment with a hospital that she learnt more about sonography and found her calling.  

“One life lesson I’ve learnt while on the job is to be grateful for everything and never take our health for granted.”

Ong, 34, who likens what she does to photography, describes her work as, “Beautiful moments can be encapsulated in a picture and the pictures a sonographer takes reveals a lot about a patient’s well-being.” 

During a scan, she first verifies her patient’s ultrasound scan history (if any), since understanding their medical history helps the medical team make the correct diagnosis

She then checks with the patient as to why she requires the scan, before explaining how the procedure is carried out. At this point, she not only answers the patient’s questions, she will try to reassure her.

“After doing the scan, I’ll assess if the patient requires immediate medical attention. I usually discuss my findings with the radiologist and physician,” she notes.

Although Ong describes her work as “highly demanding and stressful”, she makes an effort to spend time with every patient. Indeed, if she could have one superpower, she would like the ability to be able to understand all languages.

She explains, “[So that] For patients who don’t speak English or Mandarin, I can quickly and better comprehend their problems or conditions.”  


Carleen Ong and family

Here’s more from her interview with SmartParents.

What do you enjoy about being a sonographer?

Every day, I get to handle different cases. One day, I might be doing an ultrasound scan to rule out an ectopic pregnancy; the next day, I could be doing a scan on the brain of a newborn in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. Occasionally, I am required to assist surgeons during an operation by localising the surgery site via ultrasound. I’m always on the move!    

Some people believe that ultrasound emits radiation, which is harmful to the foetus.

This is not true ― ultrasound is safe because it does not produce ionisation radiation like that in X-rays, which can increase risk of birth defects. Ultrasound is also relatively painless. During an ultrasound scan, a transducer probe releases high-frequency sound waves into the body. As these sound waves hit body tissues and organs, they get reflected and picked up by the probe. These reflecte

“Patients feel vulnerable during a scan… So, in addition to reassuring them, I also try to give them some control of the situation.”

What are the qualities of a good sonographer?

A good sonographer must always show interest in learning. It is important to be humble and know that there are no boundaries to learning.

How do you try to make patients feel more comfortable during an ultrasound scan?

Patients can feel vulnerable during a scan because most haven’t quite fully understood why they are here. So, in addition to reassuring them, I also try to give them some control of the situation. I always let a patient know that her comfort is important; if she feels uncomfortable, she can choose to stop the scan.

Your most memorable patient?

I once did an ultrasound abdominal scan on a 5-year-old girl who had leukaemia. Despite the physical and emotional toll of the illness, she remained cheerful. Her mother, who had accompanied her to the scan, spoke with me. I was very touched by her attitude of resilience. Whenever the going gets tough, I always look back to our conversation, and my perspective changes.

Most important life lesson you learnt while on the job?

Be grateful for everything and never take our health for granted.

Carleen Ong and son

You are married with a 3-year-old son. How do you try to strike a work-life balance

It’s really challenging to do that. Because of confidentiality issues, we cannot bring medical reports back home, so everything must be completed at the office by the end of the day. I believe the key is managing my time well. When I’m at home, for example, I limit my time on the e-mail and the phone. That way, I can focus on spending quality time with my family.

How has motherhood changed the way you work?

I have become more patient and less judgmental

Please fill in the blanks:

I want to instil in my child the values of… Passion and perseverance.

My favourite way to unwind is… Swimming, which I do every fortnight.

I am happiest… When tucking into a slice of cheesecake.

If I weren’t a sonographer… I’d like to own a café!

My motto to live by is… Every wall has a door.

Photos: Carleen Ong 

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