Home Women In Dentistry The Journey of Self Discovery in Dentistry.
Women In Dentistry

The Journey of Self Discovery in Dentistry.

Embark on a journey of self-discovery in dentistry. Explore personal growth, professional development, and the profound impact of introspection on dental practice.

The First Journey: The Beginning of Dentistry

The very early days of our dentistry journey begins from the time we decide to embark on the dream of becoming a dentist. Expectedly or unexpectedly for some of us this was the chosen career path. Some due to peer pressure by their families, some by chance of what they were offered as a scholarship. For others, it’s a moment of influence or genuine passion for the career that had occurred at some point of their early life by someone close to them. For me, it was a moment of influence. It was my aunt who was pursuing her passion in Anesthesiology at University Malaya who gave me a little career pep talk after my foundation that had deeply influenced me. I had always wanted to become a doctor, ever since I was a little girl and that was the dream for me. While I subtly mentioned this to her while I was doing my South Australian Matriculation program at Taylors University, Malaysia. She then urged me to do dentistry instead, her reasoning was that it was a better work life balance in comparison to being a doctor

This then pivoted my whole decision going into dentistry. I had much adored my aunt and took her words to heart and then decided to pursue my dream of becoming a dentist. Little did I know the journey that was awaiting me. I had extensively researched colleges and universities in India prior to submitting my application and was then admitted into Saveetha University that was famous for its clinical exposure and years of history in the dental field pioneering as one of the most established universities in Southern India.

We then very innocently entered the orientation phase with a whole new level of excitement, fear and for some anxiety. However, what we do not realize is that we were also embarking onto a whole new phase of adulthood. It is in these next few years you truly grow as a person, independent of your family and influences around you. The sudden feeling of all that was taught to you at home was now in your hands to decide, no more guidance, no more safety nets. This is now home away from home.

Meeting fellow peers in an unknown territory, the excitement, and the fear of a very new phase then begins to transform and grow you as an individual. In the next couple of years of the undergraduate life, we dwell into our theoretical text’s books, clinical assignments and then gradually move on to a clinical set up with a real patient!

Oh, the feeling! When you are finally allowed to enter the clinical side after those long years of training on models, carving out real sized tooth models, drawing endless amounts of microscopic pathology cells specimens and sweating it at clinical labs. Patiently having to watch your seniors hustle and talk to each other about the clinical set up, challenges and the world of discovery in the real scene. Everything that you have read and known is now expected of you to be implied onto a real scenario, with real patients.

The first feeling of being of being a “Doctor” to a patient ready and waiting for you can be quite an exciting and intimidating experience. If you are looking back right at this moment and you can remember it, cherish it. These early years of dentistry, alongside with your friends and lecturers are probably one of the best and unforgettable years in the early dental journey.

Friendships are formed amongst peers, seniors, lecturers that will then carry on as an unbreakable lifetime bond in our lives. For those away from home, you build a deeper connection with your peers and form a family of your own. Personally, I have been fortunate and blessed to have formed my very own family of 4 girls to support me during my undergraduate years. I also watched many other wonderful seniors and juniors who constantly inspired and supported each other throughout the journey. What we naturally know how to do as humans is connect, bond, and form our own support system to endure this new journey together. Certain dedicated and passionate lecturers played a pivotal role in molding our characters and allowing us to find ourselves further as an individual and even more so as a role of a dentist. We certainly had our favorites, and they were good at inspiring us to perform better and become better dentists. It’s here I would like to mention that lecturers and mentors play such an important role in character building for students.

On the more romantic side for some, you may find your life partner in this process of undergraduate years, sharing all your experiences and growing into a lovely dependance of each other to maneuver your way through the undergraduate years.

We endure a long, thrilling process with many ups and downs as an undergraduate, navigating the best we know throughout these years. Dentistry has its challenges, not all of us are equipped to handle it as easily as others, yet we all learn and move forward. To a certain extend it requires grit, determination, hard work, patience (which many of us young bloods are lacking) and lastly not forgetting a fair amount of luck! Years later, I am grateful for that advice from my aunt and without a regret, I would say it is the best decision I had ever made to become a dentist.

Phase Two: The Journey After Graduation

After graduation, some decide to continue their higher education or choose an alternative career path. It is not uncommon for some to either pursue further in the field of dentistry or entirely give up dentistry. I have seen both the above scenarios amongst my peers. Not one path is the correct one, we ultimately do what makes us the happiest. For me, Malaysia is home. I wanted to return home.

As Malaysian’s we are then required to then return back to our homeland ready to be registered and to serve under the Ministry of Health, Malaysia.

There is much beauty in the Malaysian government system if you look closely. The structured system allows graduates from all around the world to reunite under one wing, providing a chance to be monitored, guided, trained by expert specialists. The system educates young graduates together for the purpose of serving the country with a fundamental aim of providing good quality doctors back to the community. This now gives us a chance to realize all the differences in the way we have been trained.

The graduates from various colleges recognized by our ministry all around the world are now finally at one place, under one umbrella. Ready to be trained as official Doctors under the Ministry of Health. What an honor, what a privilege to be part of the civil service. To serve my country after returning home and to be allowed the opportunity to work alongside some of the hardworking giant figures in various hospital and clinical settings.

It is in this very phase dwells our second journey of self-discovery. This is also where we start thinking a step further of what it is we are passionate about. For some they may have already known during their undergraduate years that their passion lies in a particular field. For others, this may be another phase of discovery. As Malaysians, we are given the opportunity to continue our higher education system under a scholarship for the field of interest.

My journey with Kementerian Kesihatan begun in 2011, and it was indeed an exciting one. Posted in the Straits of Malacca for almost 4 years, it was a humble learning experience for me. I quickly then realized my fondness for children and my excitement for surgeries in the field of dentistry. The memories in Malacca are deeply embedded in me and is now a fond memory to look back on. What a beautiful, peaceful state! Not forgetting the amazing history, exquisite food & hidden cafes

However, home away from home is never an easy decision. We all would love to return to the comfort of our family homes but for some new opportunities arise in other places. I was then posted back to my hometown Selangor, the shift upon request was then straight to Oral Surgery Department, Hospital Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Klang (HTAR) as per my request. It was here I grew fond of surgeries and the experiences I personally had there.

Phase Three:The Personal Conflict

Despite what is going on in our career paths, we also have another aspect to us. Our personal lives, personal evolvement and decisions that at times are knocking at our doors for our attention. Family matters to attend to, financial status that may alter within your support system. Thus begins our third phase, the conflict between career and personal life choices.

You then spend several years continuing under the government system either pursuing further or contemplating leaving for the private sector. In Malaysia the options are plenty, you can branch out to the Malaysian army, the private or civil teaching sector, go aboard for continuous education, venture into research, and pursue law for medico legal advisory and various other choices for your career advancements. These options are heavily influenced by our surroundings, family, peers, and others who play an important role in your life. Rarely, we stop to ask question “What is it that I want to do”. If you have done so, then kudos to you. You are on the right track of self-discovery in your career.

For some there is a pivotal change in our personal lives. The choice of investing in your personal life to be married, to begin a family, versus pursuing your career then comes into question. As humans, we all have a certain biological clock that starts ticking as we grow older. The basic human need to feel connections as we grow in our career cannot be ignored. Not to mention the social pressure. However, it is also here we dwell further into what is next in your journey as a dentist.

You start to make serious personal and career choices. For me it was a strong inclination to settle down as a married person and start a family alongside my dental journey. My maternal instincts kicked in the moment I got married, as a result I was blessed with two beautiful daughters. This journey may not be for all, for some a strong inclination to pursue their career may have been of upmost importance, for others a battle with self-discovery continues and still does. For some, we learn along the way and discover ourselves as time goes by.

Deep down my passion for treating people, making lives change never really stopped me from pursuing my career further. If there was one thing, I was proud of, it is my ability to communicate with patients and my love for anything related to hand skills.

Phase Four: Continuous Education

Continuous education is key to any given career path, often we think there are only certain few fixed pathways in the field of dentistry. However, we forget to realize that nowadays there are endless opportunities awaiting us out there.

Once you have been in the dental field for a certain period you will then find yourself gravitating towards a certain pathway in dentistry. For me it was after I had my first daughter, I personally begin to ponder my pathway in my career. It was then I decided to continue my further education towards myself. Hence, I chose to enroll into a Postgraduate Diploma in Implantology at the International Medical University, Malaysia.

Why Continuous Education?

Below are a few summarized reasons for you to consider venturing further into a postgraduate program, part time degrees and masters’ program and even short courses.

1. Increases your chances for promotion.
Many times, employers find your pursuit of continuing education a great reason to give you a promotion. They recognize you’ve invested time and sometimes money into improving yourself and want to reward that. Your new education also makes you more qualified for advanced work and an ideal candidate for promotions.

2. Increases your salary.
Continuing education often leads to a raise or a higher starting salary at a new position. Whether you will be offered a raise or promotion in your current job, or it will qualify you for a new job that has a better salary, continuing education will have a major benefit towards your income.

3. Increases your ability to make a career transition.
If you are ready to move into a new career field, often the first step will be gaining education that qualifies you for that new path.

4. Improves your image and marketability.
Continuing education is a valuable element towards your resume. For many jobs it is a direct qualification requirement to have a certain amount of education, but even if you meet the minimum qualifications, additional education will make you stand out.

5. Improves your lifestyle.
If you’re not satis fied with your current lifestyle, continuing education could be the answer to your problems.

As you spend time devoted to learning, the outcomes are positive for your career and your overall lifestyle. Improving your career often trickles down to the rest of your life because you are more satisfied with your job, earning more money and so on.

Don’t wait to change your life, start your continuing education path by doing some research and get ready for the lifestyle you have wanted.

6. Increases personal development.
Even if you are completely satisfied with your job and lifestyle, that doesn’t mean continuing education isn’t for you.

Experts agree that learning should be a lifelong process, and devoting time to continuing education can be a journey of personal development.
Whether you want to learn more about a subject that you find interesting or want some additional skills to take to your work, there are ways you can use continuing education to your advantage.

Even if your pursuit of education is purely for personal reasons, you can truly take advantage of advanced learning on your path to become a better person.

For those who never had the opportunity to get into a postgraduate course in their initial years with the government or other avenues, it is not the end of the world. Yes, it is the dream for some dentists to pursue and become a specialist. However, there are other options out there for you.

Continuous education is a good thing for everyone no matter if you are a specialist or not. In the recent years there have been multiple academy’s rising, offering various courses locally and internationally for us to better ourselves and the options are truly endless for those who seek them out.

I once again come back to the topic of self-discovery in the dental journey, it is here you feel the dire need and will eventually decide on your next career move or pathway.

Will you move forward as a general practitioner? A specialist? Will you have other interests? It is also here that I would like to mention to all readers that no matter the path of your interest “It is okay”. The self-discovery journey is never an easy feat, it is also one that comes to us most naturally. Follow your instincts.

We are all not built the same. As individuals, we all face our personal challenges; financially, mentally, physically, and socially. What I would like to emphasize here is that the purpose of this article is not only to create awareness on how the journey can be daunting for some but to also mention that we are in it to support each other.

Seek help and you shall find. No matter what you decide as part of your journey, dentistry is a never-ending learning process. We are constantly required to catch up on trends, learn and move forward to perform better for one’s goal: to serve our patients better. We hold the responsibility in many ways to provide quality work for our patients. We cannot do this alone, so connect back with your peers, friends, lecturers, and seniors for support. Seek professional help if you have too, as you are not in this alone.

Phase Five: Tapping Into Your potential.

In the Malaysian government sector, there are different specialties program offered . On the other hand, in the private sector, advancements are also taking place such as microscopic dentistry, aesthetic dentistry, clear aligners and various other restorative advancements.

The question then begins again, where do you fit in these categories? The above two are very different worlds to begin with. The government sector is designed to serve a larger population and is funded by the government, serving a different class of people.

The private sector which is independent of funds have a different potentials of growth catering to a smaller group of people who are willing to spend, looking for faster alternatives. Hence, we are looking at two different worlds.

Which world will you be a part of? Neither is a wrong or right choice. There is a possibility to even be on both sides if you are in the civil service. I personally been on both sides. What I can advocate here is for everyone to take a good look into both worlds and carefully plan your future. Do some research, talk to your peers, lecturers, and professors. Again, as doctors we carry a responsibility on our shoulders to do what is best for our patients. Regardless of which side you choose, the fact is that we are here to help our patients.

In my opinion as glamourous as it is in the private life may seem, a part of me will always be with the government sector where I once had the opportunity to serve. I certainly do miss the civil service. So, for those of you currently in the government sector, we appreciate your service and thank you for staying.

Many private practitioners have also gone above and beyond to do wonderful changes to the communities around them. Some practices even offer free treatments to underprivileged homes and centers. Yes, we all have our own ways to give it back to the community. Hence, there is no wrong choice, what remains is just what choice fits you as an individual.

Phase Six: Your Final Discovery

There comes a point of time in your life you reach this pinnacle moment in your career where you truly feel the sense of belonging in a particular pathway in dentistry. The years of experience, ups and downs will then bring you towards where you are today. This right here isn’t the end but rather the beginning of another journey yet again. The true discovery of yourself is somewhat already embedded in yourself.

When you know your worth, it is time to be humble and hustle. Work on yourself- your advantages and disadvantages. Connect with your peers in a positive tone of voice, learn and grow together as a network of dentists.

My personal discovery happened during the covid period. I had then applied to almost 20 private practices for the position of an associate dentist. I had just completed the theoretical exams for my PGDip. Implantology with a newborn baby (my second daughter). I went through quite an ordeal. It is no easy feat handling two little active toddlers under the age of two and focusing on a Postgraduate program. For the mothers and fathers out there maneuvering your life with having kids. I want to say, you are doing a great job! We are all in this together, the least we can do is be supportive of each other.

It was in 2019 when the pandemic had required all the colleges to be closed shut. Hence, in the private sector it was a relatively big hit for the entire industry, trying to recuperate from what used to be to what it was probably a very tough phase.

I waited for a long period of time to return, complete my cases in 2021 and finally graduated with flying colors alongside with some of my batchmates. I must take time to thank all of them and my wonderful lecturers at IMU who were ever so supportive of us all during the time of the pandemic. It was truly a wonderful journey.

It was after then I pondered long and hard about what it is I wanted for myself next. It is no easy feat opening a dental practice. But I knew I had one thing, my life’s lessons. I never give up on anything. In a world full of distractions and temptations we are always looking for more, but have you ever looked inside you? That you are enough. It is important to self-evaluate prior to making decisions.

My ambition and drive to make things a success led me to the next stage of planning, preparing all the required paperwork for Bespoke Dental Damansara Heights. I wanted to create a practice that reflected me. A place that would cater for the quality of work and a sense of appreciation for what dentists do best, provide good quality care for the patients with a lot of empathy. Hence the name Bespoke. I continued to pour every bit of myself into planning this practice. I will admittedly say, I did learn and still am learning a lot in this process up until today. Almost 2 years later, I have two wonderful associates and a growing team that make every bit worthwhile.

We are a community at the end of the day. We are in this together, one and the same.

What we do isn’t easy. We work in a limited space, focusing, trying to keep up with trends, sweating it out to provide what we know best. So how can we make it better for each other? How can we be supportive of one another?

The mental stealth, physical strain isn’t one to be taken lightly. Not to mention our world doesn’t only revolve around serving our patients. We have another façade to our lives, personal lives that we must care and give importance to. Mainly, mental health.

On a lighter note, despite the difficulties and challenges of becoming a dentist, we have numerous advantages. The ability to improve people’s smiles and overall health is one of the most significant rewards. The impact we have on others is magnanimous especially for those who have been suffering from years of fear, shame and lack of confidence. I must say there is a lot of satisfaction from seeing our patients leave the dental chair with a happy and healthier smile.

Building Relationships: We do not only treat patients’ dental problems, but we also form meaningful relationships with them in the long run. Dentists get to know their patients and their families because they see them on a regular basis and build a certain bond and trust with them. This trust and care bond makes dental visits more comfortable and pleasant for patients. We truly have what it takes to make a change for people and we must here realise our worth to not only others but ourselves too.

Making a Difference: Becoming a dentist entails having a positive impact on society. We are able to contribute to the general well-being of their communities, impacting lives around us as we go. We are the true healthcare heroes because they can prevent many other health problems by maintaining healthy teeth and gums. The mirror is indeed the reflection of the body in itself. From detecting systemic issues to precancerous lesions, we play the role of a frontier role.

It is not the destination, it is the journey

-Ralph Waldo

The Joy of Smiles: The most understated result of what we do is bringing people joy. In the busy momentum of clinical scenarios we often forget the most simple and important impact we have on people. Making them happier. The joy we bring to the patients’ lives is one of the most rewarding outcome of it all. A healthy smile can boost someone’s self-esteem giving them a whole new level of confidence. We get to see our patients’ smiles transform and the positive impact it has on their lives, and even to those around them.

I would like to end my article by mentioning that the journey of self-discovery is never an easy one. It is also a continuous journey. There is also no right and wrong but there are mistakes to learn from, lessons to learn, improvements to be made and changes for the better. Have faith and constantly do the best by yourself. You know your limitations and strengths in the field of dentistry and as a person. Use them to your advantage and tap into your potential.

I emphasize again, we are not alone in the journey of dentistry. Ask and you shall receive, seek help and you shall be heard. A personal thank you note to Dr. Nurul Huda Hasan for encouraging me to write my story for the betterment of the dental community. Most importantly, for having a vision that is close to my heart in empowering women. Not to forget Mr. Kavin (CEO of the Dental Academy) for supporting the women empowerment movement and making strides in the dental community in terms of advancements for the dental community and education.

For those who wish to write to me, feel free to drop me an email at dr.kapahambala@bespokedental.net. Until then, chins up, work hard, stay humble and keep moving forward!

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