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She aims to acquire high quality, diagnostic X-rays to help heart patients
By Rachael Boon
Ms Katherine Tan has the opportunity to be exposed to new medical technologies outside of radiography during her course of work. PHOTO: WINSTON CHUANG

A keen interest in the inner workings of the human body led Ms Katherine Tan to pursue a career in radiography

It was the combination of several incidents in her life that nudged Ms Katherine Tan towards her career choice. An encounter with the hospital when her father broke his leg, visits to an exhibition of human bodies preserved through plastination and a pamphlet on radiography.

“As a kid, I knew the hospital was a place where my father’s leg would get better. Many years later, my older sister brought home a pamphlet on radiography which sparked my interest,” says Ms Tan, 30.

Her fascination with the “inner workings of the human body” was piqued during visits to a travelling exhibition called Body Worlds which came to Singapore in 2003 and 2009.

Body Worlds features skinless corpses with exposed muscles and organs which have been preserved to perfection using a technique called plastination. In a similar way, radiography allows her to study human anatomy as closely as plastination.

That was why she chose to pursue a diploma in diagnostic radiography at Nanyang Polytechnic in 2010 (the programme has been discontinued), after her A levels.


Signing up for the SingHealth Health Science Scholarship (which is the equivalent of the Healthcare Merit Award) on the advice of a polytechnic lecturer, in her first year in polytechnic, was a fortunate stroke of serendipity.

Applying for the scholarship gave her the chance to complete her diploma, and then spend a year in Australia from 2013 to 2014, to obtain a Bachelor of Radiography and Medical Imaging (Honours) at Monash University under a one-year degree top-up programme.

The scholarship also opened the door to several networking and engagement sessions.

“I did not think of applying at first, or even going overseas for my education, as it would have ​​put a strain on my family’s resources. A lecturer encouraged me, having noticed my good A level results,” she says.

“Thankfully, the scholarship pays for school fees, provides a monthly allowance, and also comes with a four-year bond after graduation – this means job security and a peace of mind after graduation.”


After graduating in 2014, Ms Tan began her bond at the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), where she has been working as a radiographer in the department of cardiac radiology ever since.

She specialises in interventional radiography, which is one of several modalities – different forms of imaging techniques – in radiography. Some common modalities include general X-rays, CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

“Working in a team, we perform a variety of procedures,” explains Ms Tan. “The most common procedure done is checking the patient’s blood vessels. Radiographers help with the X-ray machine and position the machine in different angles close to the heart to visualise the patient’s anatomy.

“We are also responsible for ensuring that radiation safety measures are adhered to, that the patient receives the lowest radiation dose possible for their diagnosis, and that all staff working in the cardiac catheterisation laboratory are well protected while carrying out their duties.”

Her day-to-day work includes covering outpatient and inpatient X-rays of heart patients on a routine basis. In addition, she is often exposed to new medical technologies outside of radiography, thanks to being part of the team at NHCS’s cardiac catheterisation laboratory as well as the ongoing pandemic.

“Due to Covid-19, a lot of chest X-rays were required, and there was innovation in the industry, looking into ensuring the safety of radiographers, such as minimising exposure and proximity to patients with Covid-19,” she says.

“Our regular routine in the cardiac catheterisation laboratory was also challenged during Covid-19.”

For instance, to carry out surgical operations smoothly, new measures, such as additional personal protective equipment, were put in place for staff safety. ​​There was also a need for split teams, the suspension of overseas leave and to keep abreast of new infection control protocols.

Ms Tan admits the pandemic has created “a sense of uncertainty and ennui”, as an event with no end in sight. But she is grateful it has also brought about different learning experiences and made further education easily accessible via online webinars with foreign speakers around the world, for instance.

The radiographer continues to enjoy her work, which includes being a certified clinical educator and supervisor – an opportunity which came along in 2017.

Interacting with students and junior radiographers constantly gives her fresh perspectives, says Ms Tan, and is also her way of giving back, having received good guidance herself during her own training. 

Reflecting on the pandemic, Ms Tan says SingHealth’s philosophy of putting “Patients. At the Heart of All We Do.” resonates strongly with her, but it has also made her think about healthcare professionals who have had to develop emotional resilience in order to cope with the never-ending pressures.

“We need to care not just for patients, but for our staff and colleagues as well,” she stresses. “When we feel our best, only then can we do our best for patients.”

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