Thanks to Greys Anatomy, upon hearing the word Orthopaedic surgeon, the likes of fictional Dr Callie Torres or Dr Atticus Lincoln springs to countless of millennial and even Gen Z minds. The association that comes quick to the mind are a robust and energetic personality constantly fixing or sometimes even breaking bones to fix them, but even to the layperson we know that in the real practice of Orthopedics, it encompasses a far wider range of matters beyond our imagination.
Enter Prof Dr Azlina Amir Abbas, a very much real-life Orthopaedic powerhouse here in Malaysia. A trail blazer right from the get-go being that she was among the earliest batches of Medical Student graduates from IMU or then known as IMC, Prof Dr Azlina went to scale heights in her profession. Among her accomplishments include Head Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya (2016-2020), Chairperson of Selection for Postgraduate Orthopaedic Training subcommittee for Orthopaedic Specialty Committee (2020-present) and Medical Coordinator & Volunteer at Limbs for Life Prostheses Centre (2013-present). While her name is synonymous with imposing achievements, Prof Dr Azlina represents the true hallmark of an educator; knowledgeable, warm, and approachable. As we sit in her office, she deftly puts everything at ease, and we go back to the beginning of it all.
How a Doctor Was Made (Born)
Having a doctor for a father naturally gave Prof Dr Azlina her first taste of the medical profession although she shared humorously, she initially decided to go into Medicine for the lifestyle it could afford her. She had the opportunity of tagging along during her father’s house calls and as a child it provided a sense of wonder and curiosity. Prof Dr Azlina fondly recalls the thrilling feeling of exploring his medicine bag and how she felt being a doctor was the perfect combination of socialising and doing good.
While she was never expected to pursue medicine, we could say she was genetically pre-disposed to a career in the medical field as not only was her father in the medical field but so was her mother. After exploring other options at the conclusion of her tertiary education, Prof Dr Azlina reaffirmed her childhood ambition of becoming a doctor. Eventually her ambition was further buoyed with the intention of service to the public.
The Journey Begins
Contrary to popular belief, it was not all smooth sailing for Prof Dr Azlina particularly during the first few years of medical school. It took a lot of grit and perseverance to pull through despite more than a few times of self-doubt. She reflects that the experience of going through her fair share of failures in the beginning taught her an important lesson; failing at something is not the end all and be all of things. She stresses on taking time to feel the “failure” and acknowledge the awful feeling that accompanies it as it is important to validate our feelings. She then impresses that the most crucial thing to remember is to not allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity or despair.
The next step is crucial to self-improvement whereby we pick ourselves up and move forward. There is nothing that happens without a reason in our life she believes and everything that we go through has a purpose of teaching us something. Apart from lessons in self-improvement, Prof Dr Azlina believes that learning to have faith in the wisdom of setbacks is just as important.
Next Stop(s): Partner Medical School, Memorial University of Newfoundland Canada / Housemanship in UM
Upon completing part of her medical studies at IMU, Prof Dr Azlina opted to do her clinical years at Memorial University of Newfoundland Canada. While she was there, it was then when things started to fall into place for her academically. The ability to interact with patients opened a new vista of understanding medicine. It was like the puzzle pieces finally falling into place and she was able to see the bigger picture in real life.
Towards the end of her clinical years as a medical student, the realities of life as a doctor began to set in which she was mentally prepared for. She came back to Malaysia and commenced her housemanship in UM where she began the mandatory rotation of service. A standout impression was made on her by a Senior Consultant while she was on her Surgical rotation.
More than occasionally the ward will be swamped, and it felt like there were never enough hands on deck. However, Prof Dr Azlina said this Senior Consultant inserted herself without hesitation amongst the chaos and helped out wherever possible. This was an eye-opener to her as she witnessed a doctor putting ranking aside and worked together to ensure patients received adequate care and attention despite the demanding pace in the ward.
That observation continues to serve as an inspiration for Prof Dr Azlina who firmly holds that when it comes to patient care there is never a place for a doctor’s ego. There is hardly anything beneath any doctor and if it contributes to delivery of excellent patient care, doctors of any level should act on it.
Prof Dr Azlina draws a lesson from that spirit of proactiveness to also having the ability to keep an open mind in life be it professional or personal. Approaching life with an open mind is essential to growth and will lead us to endless possibilities. This she feels is one of the best things she has done for herself as she further said setting limitations on oneself closes the doors of opportunity, which is to our own detriment. It is this very mindset that led Prof Dr Azlina to pursuing Orthopaedics as a specialty where she went on to do things beyond her original plans for herself.
Stay tuned for Part Two to find out how Prof Dr Azlina went on to forge a career in the Orthopaedic field.