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Flying the Flag for Orthoptists

​Joanna Saigal, Senior Principal Orthoptist, Orthoptics Service, SNEC

When Joanna, who hails from Melbourne, Australia, first joined the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) as a fresh graduate, she was part of a small group of just four orthoptists. Twenty years later, Joanna, now Senior Principal Orthoptist, is the only one in the quartet still with SingHealth. The others have either returned to their home countries or went into private practice. “Orthoptic training can only be obtained overseas and during the earlier days, orthoptists were all foreigners who usually left after a short stint in Singapore. That changed in 2006, when SNEC started sending Singaporean scholars overseas and they would return to Singapore, raring to contribute, ” she said. 


“Orthoptists were considered a new, niche profession in Singapore around twenty years ago and we were often mistaken as optometrists or opticians. Orthoptists are akin to physical therapists for eyes - we assist in the diagnosis  and management of eye muscle disorders and assess focusing ability as well as eye movements,”Joanna shared.


Determined to create awareness of the profession and encourage more to join their ranks, Joanna developed an Orthoptic Career Development pathway and competency checklists to map out career progression for fellow orthoptists. More recently, she set out to write job descriptions for the different job grades and tracks within the profession. 


Joanna also has her sights set beyond Singapore, her new home. She and her team in SNEC organised the first Asia Pacific Orthoptic Meeting in 2013, which involved gathering orthoptists from around the region to share the latest industry developments. The success of the meeting paved the way to her co-founding the Asia Pacific Orthoptic Association two years later in response to the need for a membership organisation to represent orthoptists in the region. Although the initial set-up was a challenging process, Joanna is heartened that the Association brings her fellow counterparts on a shared platform to exchange ideas on practice, research and education. 


Even while Joanna is focused on promoting excellence in her profession, one group of patients is always close to her heart. They are the little ones at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) Eye Clinic, where she also practises.  “This
is an area of my job that I really love. There is a very special feeling I get from helping children with their visual problems. There is a great feeling of joy when I see the little ones’ eyesight improve and they are able to enjoy a better quality of life as a result! ”