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Passion and Perseverance: My Remarkable Journey as a Dental Student at IMU

19 Aug 2020

It was 28 July 2020 – a day that is full of good memories for IMU‘s top students and prize winners of this year’s convocating classes at the University’s Prize Presentation Ceremony. One of these students is a dentistry student, Tan Vei Xhion, who is the recipient of the Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr Sulaiman Daud Merit Award, an award presented to the top student of the dentistry convocating class. The award is given in honor of the late Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr Sulaiman Daud who was the Chancellor of IMU from 2005 to 2010. Commenting on the receipt of the award, Vei Xhion said, “No amount of words would be able to properly describe the joy I felt at that point (when I got to know that I was the top student). I had never imagined that I will graduate at the top of my class! I spent a lot of my time being actively involved in various extracurricular activities, so I was not known for being the studious type. Looking back, the term ‘work hard, play hard’ was my mantra. I balanced my schedule by adopting a very disciplined study attitude during exam season and the determination paid off!”

Receiving an award from School of Dentistry Dean, Prof Allan Pau and Alan Foo from the Q&M Dental Group.

“Besides being awarded the Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr Sulaiman Daud Merit Award, I was also the recipient of the Distinguished Performance in Phase II Award for outstanding academic performance during the second phase of the dental programme on the completion of my degree. I was also awarded the Best Student in Prosthodontics Award by the Malaysian Association for Prosthodontics (MAP) in my final year. Additionally, I was nominated by IMU’s School of Dentistry to attend the Master Series 2019 Dental Aesthetics Symposium, organised by Ancora Imparo. I have also made a few achievements in extracurricular activities during my time in IMU. I participated in IMU Cup events such as touch rugby, darts and powerlifting where I have won silver and bronze medals in the 2017 IMU Cup.”

Vei Xhion shares with us more about his journey at IMU which starts with studying the University’s Foundation in Science and then continuing his studies in dentistry in an online interview.

Why I chose to be a dentist?

I grew up watching my parents succeed in the corporate world. Naturally, they have always encouraged me to follow their footsteps. Despite being their avid admirers, I knew that a desk job would not suit me. Driven by both my passion for the arts and sciences, dentistry felt like the perfect fit for me. With the bonus of being able to play a part in making a difference in people’s life, I was determined to make this my lifetime commitment. High school was the first stepping stone for me. I excelled in the sciences and it helped build a good understanding of what was expected in the field. Determined to further cultivate my interest, I took up attachments at private dental clinics over the weekends and holidays to gain exposure. The experience gave me a lot of confidence with my decision and I never looked back since. Then came SPM and it was a deal breaker. Unfortunately, having scored straight 10A’s with only 7A+’s, I was 2A+’s short of the requirement to be awarded a national scholarship. My dream of pursuing the career suddenly felt very distant. The cost of the degree, especially at IMU would significantly burden my family and it was an investment I was not willing to make. Frustrated, I researched for a career in finance, business and engineering. Knowing where my heart was, my family showed their endless support and reassured me to continue with my dream of becoming a dentist. I took a leap of faith and am forever grateful for their sacrifices till this day. So began my journey with IMU, one filled with passion, determination and a lot of hard work.

Xhion providing dental treatment to a fellow classmate in the IMU Oral Health Centre.

Why did I pick IMU’s Foundation in Science?

My decision to study Foundation in Science was an easy one. Having already set my mind to enrolling into IMU’s dentistry programme, I chose to study this in-house pre- university course which was designed to streamline students to their desired degrees within the institution, making transition a seamless process. Additionally, it was only a one- year programme which helped to speed up my enrolment into dentistry.

Xhion (wearing white t-shirt in the middle) and his FIS classmates during orientation.

My Student Life in IMU
My IMU journey began with Foundation in Science. It was a remarkable experience for me as it was the first to many beginnings as a university student. I forged many beautiful friendships and made wonderful memories. While it was definitely the highlight of my university life, it did not come without its challenges. In order to secure a seat in IMU’s Dental programme, I had to produce exceptional results. This meant scoring an A in every test to stay on top of the game. It was truly an emotional rollercoaster ride, but I stayed focused and put in all the hours. Finally, with all that hard work and discipline, I scored my golden ticket, a CGPA of 4.0 and was one step closer to realising my dream! Dentistry was a whole new ball game. I found myself having to meet a different set of expectations. There was a lot to juggle – my academic performance, clinical work and extracurricular involvement. The academic aspect of the course took a toll on me. In the first half of the programme, the syllabus had involved both the medical and dental curriculum. Although dentistry was a field dedicated to oral cavity, we were always taught to see our patients as whole human beings, and this meant having an understanding of general health. Therefore, to be a confident and safe dentist, I had to make sure I knew the common medical conditions too. Despite the tremendous workload, I was determined to learn and apply this knowledge to my clinical work so my patients are assured of their well-being. Additionally, other than having to fulfil grade requirements, I also needed to demonstrate my competence as a clinician through lab and clinic sessions. These sessions helped me polish my skills and I enjoyed them very much. As dental students, we were given a lot of independence when it came to managing patient cases while under very close supervision and guidance of our lecturers. As I moved into more senior semesters, my skills were put to the test as I treated real patients. I am grateful for this exposure as it was where I learnt the most throughout the course of my degree. This experience reignited my love for dentistry as I saw the many great things it brought to my patients. It was coupled with a sense of fulfilment and it constantly pushed me to do better. I am also extremely humbled and privileged to be taught and mentored by the amazing dental lecturers of IMU who are simply inspirational. On the whole, my journey with IMU has been remarkable and I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I would do it all again. The friendships that I have forged throughout the years have made my time in IMU so much more memorable. I will always cherish the great times, late nights, and mischievous adventures that we have had together.

Beyond Books – Extra-curricular Activities at IMU

I took up many roles in the extra-curricular scene while I was a student. It helped me build leadership and confidence. My tenure as the President of the Asia Pacific Dental Students’ Association Malaysian Division (APDSAMD) from 2016 to 2018 was one of the highlights during my days back in IMU. One of the many successes of my team included winning the bid for Malaysia to host the 45th APDSA Annual Congress 2018 during the APDSA Mid-Year Meeting 2016 held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This was an incredible feat of achievement as the last congress was held almost 10 years ago in our homeland. This was quickly followed by the daunting task of leading a team of 100 dental students from all across Malaysia as we prepared to organise and host the event. Finally, through a lot of hard work and many sleepless nights, the 45th APDSA Annual Congress 2018 which hosted close to 400 delegates and dentists across Asia was a grand success. My involvement with the international organisation did not end there. I had the opportunity to attend many conferences across Asia in countries like Hong Kong and Thailand. I had also participated in a lend-a-hand project organised by APDSA in Cambodia where we provided dental services and oral health education to children living in the rural outskirts. The experience was very humbling and following that, my team and I proposed more community-based projects for IMU to help people in need. Back home, I was elected as the President of the IMU’s Oral Health Committee 16/17 where I lead my team in organising various events such as the IMU Oral Health Week, Dental Cup, Dental Ball and many outreach programmes. Here, we built many professional relationships with top IMU stakeholders and was recognized for our initiatives. Associations aside, I also served as President of two orientation committees during my time as a student in IMU. It was a very fun time and I got to make many friends too! In my more senior years, I participated in a number of oral and poster research presentation competitions both locally and internationally. I was given the grand opportunity to present a research paper that I co-authored with my close friends – Tan Jun Hong and Ng Qi En at the APDSA Annual Congress Bangkok 2019, International Association of Dental Research (Malaysian Section) Scientific Conference 2019 and the National Dental Students Scientific Conference 2019. Although I did not bag any prizes, I am thankful for the experience and recognition. Hopefully, this is the first of the many more opportunities to contribute to research in a long and fulfilling career.

Support provided by IMU
IMU’s School of Dentistry emphasises a lot on experiential learning. We were provided countless opportunities to learn from outside the classroom. Some of them included visits to private and public dental clinics to gain exposure on the operational side of things. Through this, I shadowed many of the dentists and clinic assistants, especially in private set-ups, preparing myself for the workforce and learning about their tips and tricks on running a dental clinic. The experience was certainly very useful as I am interested in starting up a clinic myself! We had both government and private dental clinic postings during our undergraduate programme. It was a great initiative which helped us gain early exposure to both government and private dental practices which I do believe has helped me prepare myself to be ready for the workforce. While at these postings, I also learned a lot about private practice management and got to shadow various dentists. Additionally, we were given opportunities to go overseas for our electives with some financial support provided from IMU’s Student Mobility Programme. With some help from our Dean, my friends and I were able to do our dental electives at the National Yang-Ming University and the Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan. Not only did we get to see how dentistry is practised in a different country but we also got an opportunity to visit various places in Taiwan while learning about their history and culture. It was definitely a memorable experience.

What is your biggest motivation?

Being at IMU, I had the opportunity to learn from extremely experienced and skilled doctors. They were my role models and they continue to inspire me. My biggest drive was to be a skilled and knowledgeable clinician just like them. When it came to the treatment room, nothing was more important than to portray a level of confidence that gained the trust of my patients. In order to achieve that, I had to make sure I was always precise with my work. Practice really does make perfection and I look forward to improving myself every single day. Looking back, it felt that I was constantly at a competition with myself. I am a strong believer in the power of self-reflection and constant change. These values were an important part of my journey to becoming a dentist and will continue to be my motivation to reach greater heights.

How do you think your degree will prepare you for the future?
In the second half of course, we were given the opportunity to treat real patients. While the initial stages involved a lot of hand holding by our professors, we took up more serious roles as we climbed up the semesters. It involved a lot of decision-making processes such as diagnosing and treating a patient based on our individual evaluations of the case. I believe that this was a very empowering phase during my time here at IMU as it gave me the confidence to excel in my work. It also gave me a taste of what the working life would be like. Next, the dental programme gave a lot of emphasis to patient centred care. This holistic approach was what we strived to deliver and am proud to have built my work ethics surrounding this principle. I wish to carry on with the same care and compassion towards my patients in the future. Additionally, IMU focused a lot on continuous medical education. They have taught us to be inquisitive and adaptable. I have learnt many things outside the classroom and am excited to learn so much more throughout the course of my career. I am grateful to IMU for teaching me such a valuable lesson, that learning is life.

What are you currently doing?

While I await compulsory housemanship service, I am currently working with the Sim and Hooi Dental Group as a customer service executive. I spend a lot of my time here learning about the ins and outs of running a private dental clinic. This also gives me the opportunity to observe and assist various procedures performed by the dentists. I find this very helpful as it keeps me in touch with my skills during this long waiting period. I have also been recently called for government service and will be serving the community at Klinik Pergigian Batu, Kuala Lumpur starting August 2020.

Your future plans

I developed an interest in prosthodontics very early on during my time at IMU. It is a field which specialises in dental prosthetics like crowns, bridges, implants, veneers and dentures. I have plans on enrolling into a dental implant course following the completion of my government service. This would provide me with the qualification to perform implants, which is a highly skilled procedure on my patients in private practice. As I enjoy working in a team, I wish to join a group dental practice. I also like the idea of a multidisciplinary care which gives me the opportunity to work closely with the specialists of a dental group, therefore delivering optimal, quality service to our patients. My end goal would be to own a group practice!

What is your advice to students interested in studying Foundation in Science and Dentistry?
My biggest take home message is to study smart, not hard. It is important to learn and apply the concepts rather than to memorise and regurgitate. Make proactivity a habit, ask all the questions and make the mistakes. As long as you are actively engaging and wanting to better yourself, results will show.

IMU School of Dentistry Class of 2020 on their final day of class.

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