In Part One, Prof Dr Azlina Amir Abbas, a very much real-life Orthopaedic powerhouse here in Malaysia, shares with us on how her journey as a doctor began with studying medicine at IMU and Memorial University of Newfoundland Canada. Part Two relates on how Prof Dr Azlina went on to forge a career in the Orthopaedic field.
How Orthopedics Came To Be
Truth to be told, Orthopaedics was not a specialty that Prof Dr Azlina considered for herself. In the beginning of her medical career, she had her sights set on either General Surgery or Obstetrics and Gynecology. As Prof Dr Azlina commented, among the best things in life are the most unexpected and that was exactly how she ended up choosing Orthopaedics as her specialty. She remembers the posting to be the last one before completing her Housemanship and it was then that Prof Dr Azlina realised that Orthopaedics would be able to provide the work and life balance that was and remains important to her.
As someone who takes the role of an educator seriously, Prof Dr Azlina is determined to ensure her students take away only the very best of her knowledge. She shares advice for students whether in the medical field or not to keep oneself open to new experiences. Which could mean putting in a few extra hours to learn something new in the ward for example.
The lack of knowledge should never be something that holds us back to embark on something new. “Never close yourself off to anything (within reason of course) and to allow opportunities to come knocking at your door” she says often. More often than not, Prof Dr Azlina finds that the journey of getting ‘there’ is as important as the destination itself.
No stranger to taking time to find a method/way that works be it academically or professionally, Prof Dr Azlina firmly believes that students and professionals of any field alike need to have a dogged determination to be able to succeed and be the best of themselves. She goes on to add that students especially should endeavor to strike a balance between enjoying university days with excelling academically. This will prove to be a first taste of juggling life upon graduation and entering the workforce.
Prof Dr Azlina also made a mention that quality of life should not be limited to material gains but instead should also include in collating as much experience, knowledge and giving back to the society however possible.
Throughout her professional career she counts her involvement in the National Orthopaedic Curriculum as the most recent feat worth mentioning. A project driven by a national level board, whereby they envisioned a unified specialty-level curriculum for universities across Malaysia to adhere to. The Orthopaedic training in Malaysia is currently run by 6 public universities. While there is a conjoined board which mainly is concerned with running conjoined examinations, the examinations while is standardized however the curriculum/syllabus were not. This inevitably gives rise to discrepancies. As a solution to this predicament, a move to form a national curriculum with the view of unifying Orthopedic training, save for specific extra modules for certain universities was kick started 7-8 years ago.
This was a challenge for Prof Dr Azlina she mused, as creating a curriculum was something truly foreign to her but true to her tried and tested approach in life, Prof Dr Azlina took on this challenge head on. Despite being an educator, Prof Dr Azlina did not have a background in Medical Education or even prior experience in writing a curriculum. The first 3 years felt like a fish swimming out of water experience, but she kept pushing through with her team. Eventually they crossed the finish line and tentatively pending approval from senates of respective universities, the curriculum is set to be used for the intake of late 2022. She is optimistic that this will provide a unified platform for all Orthopaedic trainees across Malaysia. Topping this tremendous feat, Prof Dr Azlina lovingly states that her family and son would be her top accomplishment.
She recounted a particular conference where her open approach to life took her to places, she never imagined. She decided to listen in on a lecture concerning infections relating to orthopedic surgeries. That piqued her interest which led to her making changes to approaching infections and treating patients in PPUM. And as fate would have it that led her being involved in the Asia Pacific guidelines on preventing surgical site infections with the Asia Pacific Society of Infection Control (APSIC) and another with a Consensus Group in United States on consensus guidelines on how to treat/diagnose/manage musculoskeletal infections. Currently Prof Dr Azlina is still involved in giving talks on prevention of surgical site infections for Orthopaedic surgery.
This truly exemplifies her being open to opportunities and illustrates how Prof Dr Azlina embodies the spirit of dedication and perseverance.
The End, but Not Quite
If anything, Prof Dr Azlina’s professional journey despite being illustrious and mention worthy, has also been a journey of self-discovery. Through the challenges she has faced whether apparent to the world or not has taught her a multitude of things about herself. Among the qualities she has unearthed and polished with care would be the lack of fear when it comes to failing at something or embarking onto something new and foreign. Flight and flee mentality have never been her style as she truly believes that we must be open to new experiences and opportunities be it any shape and form. Feeling uncomfortable in a foreign situation is human nature but we must push through the discomfort to grow and learn. After all, learning never ends for a doctor she muses.
Beneath the somewhat gentle and soft-spoken exterior, lies steely determination to constantly improve and to do better if not the best for herself. For it is this discipline that benefits those around her be it patients, colleagues, students, family, or friends best.
She insists that we are never truly too old to change or learn something that is for the better. As a medical practitioner she prescribes a higher standard to herself to constantly improve for the benefit of her patients.
However, she is quick to add that it transcends the field of medicine as everything in life is constantly evolving and changing and it would serve us well to adapt as best we can to ensure we remain relevant and on track.
While she humbly defers that she has been blessed in her journey, more of it comes down to the undeniable fact that Prof Dr Azlina hardly shies away from challenges and new experiences. Combined with her taste for constant self-improvement and focused determination, it is hardly surprising that Prof Dr Azlina has accomplished all that she has so far, but perhaps the most satisfying accomplishment would be that Prof Dr Azlina looks back and feels contented with the journey she has been on and is still riding out.
Despite it all, Prof Dr Azlina feels there’s still plenty to do and learn, especially in a field that is constantly evolving and changing. Wherever her journey takes her, Prof Dr Azlina will be striding along optimistic and driven as always.