Being able to help someone in need was one of the motivating factors that propelled Ms Catherine Ng to pursue her passion in healthcare as an orthoptist.
The 31-year-old works at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC)’s Paediatric Ophthalmology & Adult Strabismus Department, where she diagnoses and treats eye conditions like amblyopia (or more colloquially known as ‘lazy eye’) using non-surgical methods such as eye exercises. She describes her profession as the “physiotherapist of the eye”.
“We care for patients of various ages, some as young as six months old to those in their 90s. The young patients usually present with a squint — their eyes turn inwards or they have congenital eye issues,” she said.
While Ms Ng is mainly stationed at SNEC in Outram, she also has stints at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) every two to three months — Ms Ng and her colleagues at SNEC take turns to do one-month visitations at KKH. There, she works closely with patients between the ages of six months and 18 years old.
To Ms Ng, working with young children can be challenging, but she believes patience and empathy are key.
“Some young children are unable to communicate, or may be frightened in an unfamiliar setting. Remaining calm is crucial in this situation,” she explained. She also finds creative ways to allay children’s fears when they enter the treatment room.
“I try to turn all the tests into games. Instead of telling patients I will test their eyesight, I will say, ‘Let’s play a game to check which eye sees better’. Sometimes, I offer them stickers too,” she said. She also speaks to them calmly, without rushing the check-up process so that they remain at ease.
Read more: Click here for common eye conditions in children and how they are treated.
A passion to help people
Growing up, Ms Ng was no stranger to the healthcare profession, as both her parents are doctors.
While waiting for her GCE ‘A’ Level results, she decided to write in to Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Human Resources department to request to shadow an orthoptist at work. The opportunity to learn about orthoptics and observe an orthoptist for two weeks affirmed her decision to enter this field.
She received the SingHealth Health Science Scholarship and furthered her studies at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. After graduating with a Master of Orthoptics, she returned to Singapore and has been working at SNEC for the past eight years.
Ms Ng finds satisfaction in being an orthoptist, as it allows her to help others. She remembers an elderly patient who sought help at SNEC because of an issue with double vision — a condition where both eyes are misaligned, causing patients to see two images of a single object.
The patient was distraught, as he had thought that nothing could be done to help him. After assessing his condition, Ms Ng got him a piece of prism, a plastic lens that is fitted on the inside of the spectacle lens, to relieve his double vision.
“He was so happy that he exclaimed that it felt better than winning the lottery!” This is one of the many memorable moments that motivate her at work. “I want to help people in need. I find it rewarding that I can make a difference in my patients’ and their families’ lives.”
Outside of work, Ms Ng, a mother to a baby girl, enjoys hiking with her family to de-stress.
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