Know Your Heroes: Vanessa Ong

Vanessa Ong with a smile wearing a white hoodie and a lanyard with visible text that reads "UHN." The background is a plain, light tan color.

Name: Vanessa Ong
Title: Physiotherapist
Number of years working in health care: 17
I was born and raised in: Toronto

I decided to get into health care because I grew up playing a lot of sports and in high school I was exposed to athletic therapy as a form of rehab as a co-op student. It was great to see therapists help people feel better and work towards helping them in participating in sport and their lives in a more meaningful way. After high school, it felt quite fitting to go into kinesiology and then physiotherapy as an athlete. I entered my physiotherapy master’s program assuming that I’d work in sports with athletes. This was the case until I went on my first placement in a neurological rehab setting in an Owen Sound hospital. It was there and then that I caught the “neuro bug” and became enthralled with the brain, how it functioned and the role that I could play in rehab to improve the lives of those impacted by neurological conditions. I became focused on learning about neurological conditions, the brain, and exposure to individuals with neurological conditions throughout the continuum of care. I was fortunate to get a job at Toronto Rehab after my schooling and have worked in various programs related to neurological conditions. I find it fulfilling to work with patients achieve meaningful goals in rehab to support them in moving closer to thriving in their lives.

My role here at UHN as a physiotherapist, is that I work with patients and families in interprofessional teams to facilitate and support patients with achieving meaningful goals in their rehab journey. I frequently collaborate, problem solve and support others to work towards quality improvement in how we deliver care to our patients. I get to educate learners on clinical placement as well as at the University of Toronto as they get closer to entering the health care field as physiotherapists.

The thing I love the most about my job is that I truly love watching my patients get better as they work towards achieving their goals that they’ve set out early on in their stay. It feels great knowing that I am playing a part in their success, and I am grateful that I get to work towards these successes in a strong collaborative team environment. I am very fortunate to work with wonderful people who share this common enthusiasm to help others when they are in a vulnerable and unfortunate time in their lives. We work extremely hard for the betterment of our patients and our programs. It is both inspiring and motivating to be surrounded by caring individuals and I love that we also know how to celebrate our successes and find time to team build and bond in activities such as potlucks, playing music, playing board games, escape rooms, Spartan races, Ride for Rehab team and virtual cross Canada runs.

The most incredible thing I’ve seen at work is… I’ve seen many incredible things at work with regards to people not being able to do anything for themselves like not being able to sit, feed or move without significant help, to transform to being able to walk out of the hospital to go home. The most incredible thing that I’ve seen may be the transformation of a person who had an old stroke (>5 years) who was wheelchair bound, practically non-verbal, dependent on his partner to support him in all of his ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living), become a completely different human being through ongoing consultation, therapy and education to work toward living his life to its fullest by talking, joking, laughing and walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.

I’m inspired by working with people who have a lot of passion, drive and creativity to look for opportunities to make health care, programs or patient outcomes better.

I am also inspired by patients who come into rehab and work so hard outside of therapy to push themselves to be the best that they can be.

One of my personal heroes is my mother because she raised my brother and I as a single mother in a manner that I’d describe as atypical for an Asian parent many decades ago. Her unconditional love and support avoided any sensation of feeling under pressure to achieve anything and as a result I felt safe and able to do anything I set out to do. Her example of strength and compassion for others helped shape the type of person I have become and continue to evolve to be.

I sometimes worry about…

1. The psychological wellbeing of the general population and how ill-equipped many of us are to handle the roller coaster of life
2. Climate change and the implication for future generations including my children
3. AI and the lack of regulation in its development as it advances so quickly

I’ve found joy recently from revisiting the sport of squash that I hadn’t been playing for more than a decade and joining a squash league that runs throughout the GTA.

My favourite book is The Whole Brain Child, by Daniel Siegel because I really appreciate how the brain is broken down in an easy-to-understand format for parents and even children to understand; it is such a practical book for anyone and everyone.

My favourite movie is A League of Their Own because it was such an enjoyable retelling of an inspiring story of women in sport that I’ve always kept it dear to my heart.

My ideal day off is spending time with my partner and energetic twins doing something active like playing a sport, riding bikes, swimming, hiking/walking and enjoying some delicious food together.

Did you know you can recognize a UHN staff member through our Honour Your Hero program? Express gratitude for the care you or a loved one received and share a personal message of thanks with the people who supported you throughout your care journey. Your gift will supported research, education and the enhancement of patient care right here at UHN.

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