It’s not the destination, but the journey that matters. My journey in dentistry first began in high school when I witnessed my friends getting braces to correct their dental issues. Seeing the transformative power of a confident smile made me rethink my perception of dentistry. It dawned on me that dentistry wasn’t just about intimidating tooth drills and extractions, it might actually be an exciting and fulfilling career path.
You see, I’d always had this strong inclination from a young age to pursue healthcare. This was greatly influenced by my personal experiences within my family, which sparked my initial desire to serve others. As an Asian and the only child in my family, I had my heart set on pursuing a career in medicine. However, my perspective shifted after completing my A levels, when I decided to shadow both a dentist and a medical doctor to gain better insights into both fields before taking that leap of commitment that would soon determine the course of my academic journey and future career. Through this shadowing experience, I had the chance to engage with individuals who had already walked the path I was about to embark on. This opportunity granted me valuable insights into both fields, which ultimately played a pivotal role in shaping my final decision. With that, a new chapter in life unfolds – the exciting journey into dental school began!
My life in dental school has been nothing short of remarkable. Five unforgettable years of blood sweat and tears honestly! It’s been a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, a journey of grit, grins, and personal growth. Navigating through dental school was no easy feat. From countless nights of relentless studying to hours upon hours spent in the dental lab, honing our skills, to clinical hands-on training and developing essential soft skills for our patient interactions, it demands one’s unwavering determination, hard work, a resilient mindset and a supportive community.
Fortunately, I’ve been deeply blessed with an incredible support system of like-minded peers, who have kept me accountable and challenged me academically. Just like how “an iron sharpens iron”, together, we motivated and encouraged one another, pushing ourselves to excel beyond our limits while still having fun in the process. I’ll forever be grateful to friendships like these that have added a touch of brightness to my time in dental school and made it more enjoyable.
Amidst the positive experiences that have shaped my dentistry journey thus far, I also faced many challenging moments that were an integral part of the process. In 2020, a global pandemic hit our country. The world was forced to take a pause. We were isolated and had “TEAMS University” online. I was a third-year student then, and personally, I struggled to adapt to a different lifestyle. I found it really challenging to focus on a “virtual school” set up when the lecture hall was literally my bedroom. This taught me the importance of self-discipline and independent learning, a concept of learning that IMU prioritises and strives to instil into their students.
Academics aside, having the luxury of time also allowed me to indulge in my hobbies and engage in self-reflection and self-discovery. That’s when I came to a profound realisation – as much as I enjoy dentistry, it isn’t everything! It does not define the entirety of my life. Thus, I would like to take this opportunity to share this advice to my fellow juniors out there: “Life has so much more to offer beyond the realm of dentistry. There is a world out there waiting to be explored. Find the right balance, discover something that you love outside of the dental field. And remember that while dentistry is a significant part of our lives, it should not overshadow the richness and beauty of life itself.”
Another particularly demanding phase occurred during Semesters 6 to 8, when research became an essential component of the curriculum. I can still vividly remember the weekends spent in the lab, working late into the night to conduct intricate experiments, while still juggling clinical sessions and studies. The pressure was overwhelming. From time management dilemmas to constant critical thinking and even having my patience tested, each challenge tested my resolve.
Was it tough? Yes. Do I regret it? Absolutely not. Looking back, every obstacle and challenge I encountered were essential to my growth. It was an incredible learning experience for me, and I owe it all to the unwavering support of my teammates and patient guidance from my mentors – Dr Spoorthi and Dr Prashanti.
This was also a turning point in my dental journey, where I had to delve deep within myself to reignite and rediscover my passion for dentistry. The reality is, we all get weary and tired along the way. In those moments, it’s necessary to take a step back and rediscover what brings us joy. For me, it meant revisiting the core values that initially led me to pursue dentistry – The Call to Serve Others. As cliché as it sounds, it was the meaningful patient interactions that kept me going. The satisfaction gained when a child walks out of the clinic with a smile, or seeing an individual being able to enjoy their food again served as timely reminders of my ability to make a difference in the lives of my patients. That rejuvenated me and it continues to be the driving force that fuels my passion and purpose in dentistry till this day. Hence, I strive to be involved in community service work whenever possible, to broaden my perspective beyond the confines of the dental clinic and reconnect with my calling.
Advice to Fellow Juniors and Aspiring Dentists
Our dental journey is not a 100m race, it is a marathon that demands endurance, resilience, and long-term commitment. Therefore, pace yourself and prioritise your well-being. No matter how tough things get, never give up! Learn to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth and be patient with yourself. Sometimes, you have to go through the worst to get to the best, so don’t be discouraged! Trust me, you’ll reap the harvest of your hard work in due time. A wise lecturer once told me “Opportunities do open up to those who continuously pursue excellence.”
Also, your network is a key asset in your journey as a dental student. Do get yourself involved in student associations, societies, and events to expand your network. Don’t be shy to put yourself out there. It poses a wonderful opportunity to connect with dental peers from other universities and experienced dentists. Through these, you’ll acquire knowledge, diverse experiences, and skills beyond an academic setting.
Lastly, don’t forget to celebrate the small wins and make celebration a habit!
While I am eagerly anticipating my government postings, I plan to utilise this interim break to refresh myself and reconnect with friends and family. I also wish to broaden my horizon and explore various aspects of dentistry with an open mind. It is a time when I hope to gain clarity on the area of dentistry that resonates with me the most through shadowing.
24 June 2023, my graduation day marks the end of my dental school chapter, but also the beginning of a new season in my life. I am humbled and honoured to be chosen as the recipient of the awards from the School of Dentistry IMU. I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to the dedicated lecturers, wonderful friends, technicians, and nurses whom I’ve crossed paths with. I’m also immensely thankful to God for His faithfulness, and to my parents who have sacrificially sponsored my education and supported me through these 5.5 years. Without everyone, I would not have reached this milestone!
To my fellow batchmates, it has been a memorable voyage that I’ll cherish dearly. Cheers to us, the graduating class of 2023! Wishing all of you the very best in your future endeavours and may we continue to expand our horizons and reach for new heights!
Award Recipient of:
Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr Sulaiman Daud Merit Award
Distinguished Performance in Phase II Award, sponsored by Q&M Dental Group
First Prize in Best Oral Presentation at IIDC and IDSC 2022