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International Medical University through the Eyes of a Dental Student

22 Jan 2020

Throughout my teenage life, I have listened to people reflecting back on their university experiences and explaining how university is supposed to be “the best experience of your life.” I realised that, to fully understand what it must be like, I must experience it for myself.

What To Do After A-Levels?
At the end of my A- levels, I found myself relatively fickle when it comes to deciding which course to pursue, with the added stress of finding a university that was close to home. As good as a course might be, I think it is equally important to live in a town or a city which you can relate to. Whilst all my friends were getting offer letters and confirmations, I was still wondering which university would not just give me an academic qualification but also able to develop me as a person. With a blurred mind and zero idea, I decided to put all my eggs in one basket and apply for a Bachelor of Dental Surgery at the International Medical University (IMU). This isn’t a choice I had dreamt of since childhood, it was a choice of trying it out and see how it goes. Little did I know, by the end of the exhilarating 5-year degree, I would become so attached to my university that it seems unfathomable to not ever going back to my second home.

An IMU student shares her experience studying dentistry at IMU. For me, IMU served as half-way house between leaving home and getting a job. It was refreshing to take a step away from childhood and a step towards maturity, growth, and self- discovery. I hadn’t known anything about dentistry when I embarked on this journey. Dentist to my knowledge back then was a doctor of teeth to which they do cleaning (scaling), fillings (restorations) and plucking out of teeth (extractions). I walked into the first semester of university clueless surrounded by peers whose childhood dream was to be a dentist. Having said that, they knew terms like incisors, canine, premolars and molars before starting university whilst I was googling their meanings as the lecturers were explaining dental anatomy. Reflecting back, I laugh at my innocence because now I know a DENTIST is a Doctor, Engineer and Artist.

Training for us starts at the simulation lab before we progress to treat patients. Preclinical (getting prepared to treat a real patient safely) phase helped us to adapt to a university routine none like any other. Many friends who started university in different fields made university seem like a time of play, partying and travelling. I thought my routine would be the same too. I was wrong. The first 2.5 years, we had to attend at least 80% of all medical lectures alongside our dental lectures and as time progressed, we had preclinical lab sessions that by the end of the 1.5 years was added with clinical dental sessions. All of which I had no idea was coming my way.

My schedule was a continuous 9 am – 5 pm everyday for ten semesters. It felt daunting enduring it. It’s baffling wondering how a simple girl in her twenties could juggle this schedule and involvement with various extracurricular activities such as dance and volunteering, without failing.

Most of the preclinical exposure was concentrated on the practical vocation of mastering the hand dexterity to do dental treatments. We started off with simple waxing carving to understand dental anatomy, which at first I didn’t know its relevance, when we had tooth models as reference. Eventually I come to realise it was training us to learn how to do wax work such as gum carving for our denture cases.

We then went on into learning how to trim or drill and restore a tooth by practicing on a plastic tooth, then on mounted real tooth. Eager to show off my skills to my non dental friends, I was rather annoyed as to why it is such a long process before I could treat a real patient. Now when I think back, if I have to use a drill with 300,000 revs per minutes to take half a millimetre off the side of a tooth at an 18-degree angle, I do not want to do that on a real person the first time! Therefore, I truly understand IMU’s approach on concentrating on preclinical lab work by first practising on a phantom head without a tongue and who doesn’t cry. This also served as a platform to bond with our lecturers and have them nurture our confidence to better treat a patient. An IMU student shares her experience studying dentistry at IMU. Though strict with a hawkeyed vision to point out our flaws in skill, only these lecturers knew what was best for us. I am so grateful for the close student dentist relationship that exists with IMU’s teaching. Having a ratio of 10 students to 1 lecturer in the simulation labs, allowed me to learn and catch up on work despite at some point being left behind on knowledge and skill due to my extracurricular involvement. With time, I still found myself still in doubt as to if I had chosen the right field. However, my decision was reinforced with the lecturers, dental technicians and dental nurses we were blessed with. Every member of staff knows you very well, I almost felt like we were a giant family under the School of Dentistry. I truly love that I see the same lecturers regularly. All of them are so approachable. Some even felt like friends. No matter how senior in the years you become, these guardian angels take the time to teach you again if you are having a problem with a practical skill or need refreshing of knowledge. Each lecturer from the fields of oral surgery, oral medicine, community oral health, restorative, endodontics, periodontics and pedodontics – throughout my clinical years provided fragments of knowledge that has made me the equipped dentist that I am today. Furthermore, the lecturers not to mention dental nurses who care for our clinic and labs are always listening to the student’s concerns. I have seen, even as quickly as in two weeks, how our suggestions have influenced the programme. To see change like this happen is amazing and makes us really feel like we are one giant family. To add, each student is assigned to a lecturer as a mentor and was I blessed with a caring lecturer. Every time he would run into me, he would ask how am I doing and a simple action as a such can calm a student in ways inexpressible.

As the years progressed into clinical years, I learnt to find my niche. A senior once told me “find the one thing you like about dentistry and do that, it doesn’t matter what it is, but do that.” So I did. I found myself enjoying community work through the community oral health subject and excelling relatively easy in oral medicine and pathology. Our School of Dentistry dean,  Prof Allan Pau was a heavy influence in my community work, encouraging and creating platforms as a community oral health lecturer. With that, I was able to create a charity toothbrush project titled Care2Brush and helped provide free dental check-up and care for an urban poor community through an assignment.

Furthermore, with oral medicine and pathology, I was trained by extremely passionate lecturers to represent the university in two competitions, one in Malaysia and one internationally in Bangkok. Despite having only won the former, I still felt extremely equipped for both competitions as dental student. I felt I had the knowledge of an experienced clinician. These lecturers were role models that aspire me to one day become a lecturer too.

How Do I De Stress?
A massive passion for me is dance. It’s a great way to de stress. I was lucky with the close knit relationship with my lecturers, a senior and I were always paired up to perform at School of Dentistry events. Personally, it was the highlight of university having to spend time doing a hobby with my friends and lecturers. Dance is an energy that brought communities together. Despite a busy schedule of balancing studies and assignment with patient cases, I would always find time to involve myself in dance. You won’t always find everything to cater for every taste, that’s why you have to make some of it yourself.  So many societies spring up here at IMU because someone has the passion for it. There’s always a place for any student to find their solace in a stress buster activity. With that being said, IMU teaches one to be very accomplished holistically allowing us to excel in both curricular and extracurricular aspects.

Ending this 5-year journey was simply bitter sweet. There is a great deal of experiences I would love to share like an adult reflecting back on their university days as to how it is supposed to be “the best experience of your life.”, like a proud alumna of IMU. But I would much rather anyone reading this to sign up for a course with IMU and experience this journey first-hand for themselves. I cherish every memory created with my best of friends and lecturers. No word can express my gratitude towards these lecturers, dental technicians and dental nurses for their steady guidance and love throughout the years.

Written and photos by Karishma Kaur Gill

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