Meet Dr Ong Shong Meng: The Orthopaedic Surgeon Who Started as a Volunteer

27 January 2022

Article by: Nur Yee Jie Min, Corporate Communications

Dr Ong Shong Meng
Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon & Paediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon

If you asked Dr Ong Shong Meng to choose another career, he would choose to be a doctor all over again. Dr Ong, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and Paediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon at Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City shared that it was his parents who first encouraged him to take up medicine. Despite it sounding like he wanted to become a doctor because of his parents, he took their advice a step further by volunteering in a hospital when he was studying in the UK. So, what started as a means to get into medical school turned out to be a meaningful experience that spurred him on further.

“Medical school was fantastic! It was the happiest time of my life. I was learning something new every day; and in university, there was camaraderie all around which made me feel like I belonged.

“I was always inclined towards the surgical subjects. But orthopaedics was one subject I struggled with. Because of that, I felt I had to do more. So, I decided to take the bull by its horns and went straight into orthopaedics as a junior house officer after medical school. Somehow, I picked up a lot quicker and really enjoyed it.

No Two Days Are the Same 

“I always knew I wanted to do something with my hands and orthopaedics is a very mechanical job. I like it because there are a lot of ‘toys’ and the thing about orthopaedics is you can see your work instantly. There is no hiding as the work can be seen plainly on an x-ray,” said Dr Ong.

Orthopaedics in the UK has become very subspecialised and most orthopaedic surgeons end up becoming joint surgeons whether it be a knee surgeon or hip surgeon. Paediatric orthopaedics is the only arm that does not require the doctor to specialise in any particular joint and Dr Ong gravitated towards it.

“I find it interesting that I could be operating on an elbow today, a hip tomorrow and a foot the next. As a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon, I deal with a lot of congenital problems. Some that are not fully understood and some which we still don’t know what causes it – giving me room to discover new things. The other part when managing trauma or injured children, which gives me different facets to explore,” he said.

The Difference in Treating Adults and Children 

There is a vast difference between treating an adult and a child, and the very reason why there is a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon is because children are not mini adults. Children are physiologically and anatomically different from an adult. Their bones are still growing and while this makes treatment easier, sometimes it can get difficult as some methods used in adults cannot be used in children as it will destroy their growth plates.

“There is a lot of pressure treating a child, but it gives me great satisfaction to watch a child grow. When the job is done right, I am putting this person back into society and hopefully in the future, he or she will contribute to society.

“Personally, I prefer to treat kids more than adults as they are very straightforward. When in pain, they will tell you exactly how they feel and babies will cry. And if they are happy, they will show it right away. There is no hidden agenda in any form,” he expressed.

Dr Ong looking at a patient's X-ray

Every day is a challenge for him and he finds dealing with deformity corrections the most challenging in his job. In paediatrics, this falls under congenital conditions which are rarely covered by insurance companies and the challenge is in retaining the patients as some may have the means but others not so much.

“I have a special interest for clubfoot where a baby is born with feet that are shaped like a golf club. It is a common congenital defect and is quite treatable. The shape of the foot can be restored to almost normal function with minor surgery and manipulation. I almost treat these cases on a semi charitable basis.

Improving Someone’s Life Brings Joy

“Orthopaedics is one of the few specialties where you can cure someone. I am not saying other specialties don’t cure someone of their medical conditions but in most orthopaedic cases, we are able to cure the patient and there aren’t that many long-term follow ups except for kids with congenital conditions. I believe that I should put my skills to good use in improving someone’s life,” he expressed.

Dr Ong Shong Meng

After a long day, it is easy to say that Dr Ong leaves the hospital without bringing back the work. He tries to practice this as much as he can but is not successful all the time. On days he has performed a big case, he doesn’t stop thinking about it even after getting in the car and driving home. Instead, he shifts his focus by spending time on his interests and hobbies.

“I catch up with my friends quite often during my free time and golf is the other thing I do from time to time. I also enjoy collecting wine and watching movies. Before COVID-19, I try to fit in one skiing trip every year. I suppose one of the signs I like my job is that I don’t feel it is a drag to come to work. In fact, I feel more alive when I am at work and seeing my patients happy really motivates me,” he ends with a smile that shines through behind the mask.