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Ready for Challenges: My Journey from IMU to Government Practice

05 Oct 2020

My journey as a student in IMU started back in 2015 and I remember walking in as a reserved introverted student. Today I see myself as a confident and competent dentist who is ready to take up new challenges and opportunities in life. I vividly remember attending the IMU Open Day with my parents early on when I was still deciding which university to join for my undergraduate studies. My mother and I attended a talk given by Prof Seow Liang Lin in which she joked about everyone thinking of dentistry as just learning about 32 teeth, why do we need to study about it for 5 years? On contrary, it is much more than that. Various disciplines can be explored within dentistry which is ever-expanding in this technology-driven world. At the end of her talk, I remember being amazed by the depth of opportunities this field has to offer. Needless to say, by the end of the day, I had a strong feeling of where I was going to go. I would not be the dentist I am today without the guidance and influence of my lecturers. From Day 1, they have been very approachable to discuss cases and clear our doubts. We, the dentistry students, had the opportunity to be exposed to various national and international dental platforms. Personally, when I was a student, I had the opportunity to join conferences and further enhance my knowledge as well as soft skills. The conferences that I joined were namely the 11th MES-SES Biennial Joint Conference by the Malaysian Endodontic Society and 23rd MDA Scientific Convention and Trade Exhibition, where I was involved in the mentor-mentee programme. The most interesting and memorable experiences were definitely from when I was involved in the Organising Committee as Head of Scientific Research Competition in Asia Pacific Dental Student Association Annual Congress (APDSA) in 2018 and as a volunteer in the 30th Annual Scientific Meeting of South East Asia Association for Dental Education ( SEADDE). These involvements made me step out of my comfort zone and in hindsight, it helped build the character and leadership within me.

My Stint in Research
It was also in IMU that I was able to find opportunities related to my passion and the university acted as a platform to further experiment my interest in research, an interest that I had since young as I am inquisitive in nature. I had the pleasure of working as a research assistant in Semester 4 i under the supervision of Prof Fredrick Smales and Prof Khoo Suan Phaik and was involved in collecting saliva from mice with different feeding habits. To my delight in Semester 8, under the Special Study module, I was given a research topic which involved the investigation of the concentration of a few hormones found in human saliva under the supervision of Prof Khoo Suan Phaik. This time, I had the opportunity to learn how to process saliva in the lab and carry out the ELISA test. Juggling between studies and extracurricular activity is never easy but now I realize how they have helped to shape the comprehensiveness of my dental-related knowledge. This has certainly equipped me with the confidence to walk into the world and explore various opportunities on my own. Upon successful completion of the research, under the guidance of lecturers, I also had the opportunity to publish the findings, present them in the 11th National Dental Student’s Scientific Conference (NDSSC), and in the 34th Scientific Conference by the Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM). All of this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my university.

As a student in IMU, I have taken up multiple roles such as batch representative, research student, speaker, committee member, and volunteer. All of this was possible because the learning environment and ambience here at IMU is very nurturing, constantly pushing us to become more than just an ordinary student.

At IMU, we started treating patients as early as Semester 4. From treating mannequins in the lab to treating patients in the clinic, it was a total change of learning methodology. Our clinical sessions were not just pertaining to one particular specialisation but we would be addressing concerns of the patient involving all specialisations at once.

During many sessions at IMU, we are presented with multiple oral problems in a patient who sometimes can be medically compromised. This demands a treatment plan that is individually tailored for each patient. From deciding which treatment is best to salvage the tooth to understanding the needs and expectations of each patient, every day was an opportunity to learn something new and exciting. IMU clinical sessions have undoubtfully taught about the multidisciplinary approach to treating a patient and seeing the patient as a whole instead of our view being limited to the oral cavity. We would be treating patients and at the same time learning about the related subjects during discussion or lectures which further helps to put things in perspective. I was able to relate and reflect on patient cases that I was treating. In this way, I was able to identify my shortcomings and always strive to improve myself and provide better patient care next time.

Where Am I Now?
After the successful completion of the dental degree, now I have finally joined the government workforce to practice as a new dental officer. I am starting to see how the experiences and practices I have had in IMU are helping me in becoming a competent dentist.  Every day I encounter patients from different socioeconomic backgrounds with various concerns and I would have to tailor treatment plans to cater to their needs. On the same day, I manage a simple restorative treatment as well as cater to emergency cases such as facial cellulitis. Learning under a multidisciplinary approach in IMU has helped me to adapt to this challenging environment easily. In IMU, lecturers always stressed how imperative it is to holistically treat the patient, catering to their physical, mental, emotional, and financial needs. I still remember what was said to students during one clinical refection session, “Treat your patients as to how you would treat your parents and family members” Till now, I hold this statement close to my heart every time I treat patients.

My journey in IMU was enriching and filled with wonderful memories. I had the pleasure of reminiscing all the good times I have had for the past 5 years. I am forever grateful to my lecturers and this institution itself for allowing me to learn and grow into who I am today.

IMU has created many competent medical professionals for the past years and I am one of the products of their dental programme. I wish them more success and hope that they will continue in their role of creating successful graduates for the nation. As the saying goes “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think”, I believe learning in IMU has helped us become independent learners who are prepared to venture into various fields in dentistry.

Written by Dr Ponmullai A/P Balakrishnan

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