A day in the life: Gemma McGlinchey


Gemma McGlinchey, sonographer at The Portland Hospital for Women and Children, part of HCA Healthcare UK

I live near Queen’s Park, so I actually walk to work in the morning. It saves me from the sweaty tube! Usually we work from nine to ¨ve, or nine to seven—
there’s no shift work, which is nice—so I get in about half past eight. I make sure all the rooms are set up and ready, the machines are on, then I’ll have some breakfast and check my emails. Usually my emails include patient test results, so I need to attach the results to the patient’s speci¨c ¨le and get in contact with them to let them know how they’ve come back. This might be the result of chromosomal testing, so I’ll be telling them about the risk of the Down’s syndrome within their pregnancy and if they want to know, I can tell them the sex of their baby. Usually people ¨nd out at the 20-week scan, but others don’t want to wait that long. We can do a blood test at nine or 10 weeks with the aim of screening for chromosomes, but that can also show the baby’s sex too. I work in gynaecology and obstetrics, so throughout the day I’ll carry out a variety of scans. On the gynae side of things I’ll do anything from a routine pelvic scan to a post-menopausal scan, or it might be that someone has had a miscarriage. On the obstetric side, I can provide an early dating reassurance scan from seven weeks, chromosomal testing at around 12 weeks, or an anatomy scan at 20 weeks, which is much bigger and more detailed. We then have growth scans up until birth.

"No two scans are ever the same, and sometimes you find things you may have never seen before"

Here, we have four ultrasound rooms: I work with two other sonographers, one of whom is my manager, and numerous consultants who come in on various days. They might be foetal medicine specialists, gynae specialists, or obs and gynae specialists. Compared to other hospitals we are quite small, so we are a very close-knit team and we bounce o§ each other. As someone relatively new to the game, it is good to know the other sonographers are there and very willing to help me if and when I need a second opinion. They’re fantastic at their jobs and I learn an awful lot from them. The sonographers here have all been doing this for many years and are extremely knowledgeable—they really take care of their patients and they’ve been so good to me.

In terms of ultrasound machines, we are well equipped—most of our rooms have the Voluson E10 machine, which is the Ferrari of ultrasound machines. The quality of image is very good: we can achieve a very clear, crisp picture for 2D diagnosis. The machines we have also produce 3D and 4D images, which we provide as a ‘fun’ scan for the parents to see their baby. It’s lovely for the patient to be able to see a 3D image of their baby’s face—sometimes it’s not achievable, but more often than not they come out all excited because they’ve seen those chubby cheeks in amazing detail. On the diagnostic side of things, it’s very good for picking up problems, but ultrasound is never 100%. Sometimes we do find things that mean we need to send the patient on for an MRI or a laparoscopy, for instance—mainly on the gynae side of things, but if it’s a very complicated case with the foetal heart, for example, we will send them to a foetal echo specialist.

We work with different departments in this building and in the main hospital across the road, so we deal with both booked appointments and walk-ins- perhaps a patient who thought they were just going to the consultant for a chat, but they end up coming to us for a full MOT. It means there’s a lot of paperwork and report writing, so there are two sides to the job—the practical, but even more importantly, communicating with the patient. It can be challenging, because we do deal with some di°cult situations. The most challenging part of the job is doing a pregnancy scan and realising it’s a miscarriage. Some patients may come in with symptoms, so they might be a little bit prepared, but others have no idea and unfortunately, it’s me who has to break the news. That can be incredibly di°cult, especially when dealing with a couple who might have tried for a long time or have an IVF pregnancy. For me, one of the nicest parts is when first-time parents come in, nervous and hesitant. Usually they come in at around seven weeks for an early dating scan; it’s only a very small embryo at this time, but I can show them the heartbeat and you can see the delight in the parents’ eyes

If you do come across something that might be cause for concern, though, you need to be upfront about it. Patients appreciate honesty. It’s important to be very personal and approachable. If a patient is upset, you need to allow them time to be upset. You need to be very sympathetic and empathetic in this job. But it’s also really rewarding. For me, one of the nicest parts is when ¨rst-time parents come in. They’ve never had a scan before so they’re nervous and hesitant. Usually they come in at around seven weeks for an early dating scan; it’s only a very small embryo at this time, but I can show them the heartbeat and you can see the delight in the parents’ eyes. We often get emails from parents once they’ve given birth, or they’ll come in with their child and say, you scanned this little one. The nice parts far outweigh the not so good parts. Sitting in an o°ce juggling with spreadsheets and numbers is not for me—this is very people-orientated, and it’s very diverse. No two scans are ever the same; there’s always the prospect of spotting something that didn’t show up on the previous scan, and sometimes you ¨nd things you may need to refer to a specialist. A sonographer never really ¨nishes learning, be that about new equipment or a new way of looking at heart or brain abnormalities. It’s an interesting role. Working here, with a lovely team, means it’s a pleasure to come into work. I’m very content.


The Portland Hospital for Women and Children

205-209 Great Portland Street

London W1W 5AH