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Ng Teng Fong General Hospital radiographer is keeping cool under pressure

Photo Caption: Ng Teng Fong General Hospital radiographer Sarah Tan was part of a team that performed chest X-ray screenings during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

By Kenneth SZ Goh 

While most of us were holed up in the safety of our homes during circuit breaker, Ms Sarah Tan was right on the frontlines.

The 25-year-old radiographer at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital was part of a team that had the gruelling but crucial task of performing about 200 chest X-rays daily, mainly for migrant workers who live in dormitories. 

Chest X-rays are used to screen for signs of coronavirus infection. To cope with the high volume of patients, portable X-ray machines and lead shields, which protect against radiation, had to be set up in makeshift “fever” tents. 

The high number of patients who needed to be screened also meant that the radiographers were racing against time.

She says: “We had to clear the X-rays quickly in order to minimise the chances of cross-infection between patients while they were waiting in the fever tent. We had to work as a team in order to manage the high patient workload efficiently. The process required a high level of concentration in order to ensure no mistakes were made while keeping track of patients’ identities.”

There was also a language barrier as most of the foreign workers were not fluent in English, which made it difficult to communicate instructions, such as proper breathing techniques to achieve quality diagnostic chest radiographs. Ms Tan describes how she and her colleagues used printed visual aids as well as a mobile application to translate basic phrases from English into the workers’ native languages. 


Emotional support

Ms Tan admits she was initially fearful of getting infected and spreading the virus to her family. She confided in her parents, who encouraged her to have courage and faith. It also helped that her fiancé works in the healthcare sector and could empathise with her concerns. 

Even though the work was physically and mentally draining, Ms Tan felt comforted having her colleagues by her side. 

She says: “Even though we had to make sacrifices, such as cancelling our annual leave, it was necessary and worthwhile to ensure the safety of our families, loved ones and our countrymen.” 


 Inspired to contribute

When she was in junior college, Ms Tan was put on a one-week attachment at Alexandra Hospital as part of a school programme. While working in the emergency department, she was struck by how radiography plays a significant role in medical diagnosis. 

After her A Levels, Ms Tan decided to pursue a Bachelor of Radiography and Medical Imaging (Honours) at Monash University in Melbourne. She received MOH Holdings’ Healthcare Merit Scholarship in 2014. After 1½ years of performing general X-ray imaging, she is now undergoing training to specialise in ultrasound imaging. 

Ms Tan believes that her commitment to healthcare has been strengthened by her experience at the Covid-19 frontlines. She says of the healthcare profession: “The gains may sometimes not be immediate and tangible, but it is very meaningful.”

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