Dr Abbas Naqvi is a dental marketing professional. He is among the most innovative and creative minds to come out of the Pakistani dental field in the past ten years. Starting out as a dental graduate, he chose to go above and beyond the traditional confines of the profession by integrating into the dental media and marketing industry after being a part of Dental News for four years and taking it to new heights, spending 5 years at 3M as scientific marketing specialist and simultaneously pioneering clinical photography education in Pakistan.
He then moved to Canada, from where he acquired considerable experience in allied dentistry and education in media & marketing, and eventually went on to start his own company See Factor Inc, which provides visual media and marketing consulting and services to Canadian Dentistry. Having almost 15 years’ experience in dentistry and allied fields from two different countries in his arsenal, Dr Abbas is a veritable wealth of knowledge, experience and wisdom for all dental professionals and students. Dental News conducted an exclusive interview with him during his recent trip to Pakistan to gain insight into his views regarding international and allied dentistry, as well as gain understanding regarding the process of pursuing dentistry clinically and academically in Canada.
Excerpts of the interview are as follows.
Dental News: What prompted your move to Canada?
DR ABBAS The primary driver behind the move was a security concern. However, this shift was also prompted by the desire to pursue a better overall quality of life, broaden my professional and academic horizons, take on new projects and search for greater opportunities.
DN: Did you achieve the objectives you had set out to achieve in Canada?
DR ABBAS Though I would say I am still in the process of achieving my objectives, I am happy to say that I seem to be on track. I have only been in Canada for 5 years, which isn’t long enough to signify a true professional and academic rebirth. However, in this time, I have upgraded my education and realigned my professional profile to the North American needs.
DN: How has the journey so far been like?
DR ABBAS When I first arrived in Canada, I didn’t understand their dynamcs of dentistry. I started out marketing for ABELDent, one of 2 major dental software providers in Canada. However, I outgrew my role soon and parted ways in pursuit of greater objectives. I reviewed my plans and opted to refine my media and marketing experience and skills acquired from Pakistan and acquired a diploma in marketing from McMaster University and a graduate certificate in New Media Journalism from Sheridan College. Meanwhile, I also devised and launched my company, See Factor Inc, which is a dental media and marketing agency providing consultation and services. During this time, my wife Dr. Mufakkhar Sultana pursued the Equivalency Process to become a licenced practitioner in Canada and is at the last stage of the process.
DN: Is Canada a good country for Pakistani dentists to study and practice in?
DR ABBAS Canada is a small country population wise with a highly controlled market where success doesn’t come easy. Newcomers to Canada will be in for a cultural and professional shock.
The biggest issue is that our students and professionals are not given the awareness and understanding of the environment and how they should plan their professional moves and careers accordingly. The forced “academic mania” which doesn’t exist in the west and is crippling the young Pakistani dentist more than helping them develop.
That being said, Canada is a good country for Pakistani dentists to further their practice, more than education. One must bear in mind that the industry is unique and unlike Pakistan, offers more in terms of security of living, quality of life, welfare and benefits (being a social welfare state). Converting opportunities into wealth is not easy anywhere and Canada is no different.
DN: Could you please expand on that?
DR ABBAS What this essentially means is that we are geared towards believing that the more degrees we have in our arsenal, the more likely it is for us to be successful clinically and professionally. This belief and system is unrealistic, unpractical and untrue. It has been created and propagated by the institutions to turn dentistry, a business-oriented profession, into a job-oriented profession.
In the developed and even the real world out there, one’s merit lies in their clinical abilities and the ability to market these skills ethically and professionally. Therefore I would say that before anything else, one should realign their approach to the profession and rather than being a nation of general dentist pushing to specialize, assume the position of a “general dentist with special interests” and develop your knowledge and skills through regular CDE in the areas of dentistry that resonate the most with you. Acquisition of degrees and a faculty position should not be the end goal whether you are here or in Canada for the simple reason that it’s a very myopic approach to be implemented as a system and more than anything else, ends up in your education limiting your potential rather than expanding it.
DN: What kind of licencing is required to be able to practice in Canada?
DR ABBAS Canada offers two pathways to becoming a licenced practitioner; a university route involving 2.5 years of additional study at a cost of about $200-$250,000 and a direct licencing route based on passing 3 exams called the equivalency process at a cost of about $40-$50,000.
Everybody wishing to practice in Canada must first attempt the first of three exams (AFK) which is a paper based MCQ exam. Unfortunately, there are only 85 seats available in universities for all foreign candidates against hundreds of applicants.
Those opting for the direct licensing process need to write a second paper based theory exam (ACJ) and the third practical exam (ACS).
The practical exam is the most difficult as well as the most financially taxing, and can cost up to CAD $20-25,000 in exam & preparation fee and equipment, whereas the prior two theoretical exams would cost a total of CAD $10,000 to appear for. The dentists who are able to secure one of the 85 foreign seats are admitted into third year of dental school after a few weeks or months of a bridging phase, where they then complete two years of education to acquire a DDS degree.
DN: Why did you choose not to continue dental practice and move into allied dentistry instead?
DR ABBAS This decision was a combination of both situation and choice. My situation caused me to follow other professional tracks in addition to dental practice for financial reasons. However it was also my choice to go beyond dentistry. I have always had the wish to expand my skillset incessantly, and to learn as well as teach. I’ve always been in pursuit of an action-packed life, and even though I enjoyed clinical dentistry and did it well, I was not content with simply practicing in a clinic every day. My personal interests also played a part in me broadening my professional horizons and pursuing adjacent professional avenues such as clinical photography, journalism and marketing.
DN: What are some other avenues that dentists can take in general, and specifically in Canada?
DR ABBAS Some other avenues include healthcare technology, the dental products and software industry, research, academia, and the broad range of options available in the healthcare industry such as sales, media, marketing, and commercial sector. Our profession should not limit us, it should allow us to grow, and help us to focus on evolving. Even if one is trained as a dentist, it does not mean you are only trained as a dentist, so never pigeonhole yourself.
Speaking more specifically in terms of Canada, in addition to the aforementioned options, some adjacent clinical avenues include dental hygienist, office management, dental technicians and assistants, and marketing. It is all about career planning, on focusing on one’s end goal, and on finding a profession where you are not only able to freely pursue your interests, but also where you constantly grow.
DN: How would you compare the dental education and dental institute standards of Pakistan and Canada?
DR ABBAS Clinically speaking, we possibly have an edge. Institutes in Pakistan which offer extensive clinical exposure are more superior. Theoretically also, Pakistani institutes are not far behind from Canadian ones, however their diligence in training and educating their dentists gives them the upper hand on this front. Even though the academic prowess, and the curricula are highly similar, however their implementation is stricter and more disciplined.
DN: Are Pakistani dentists at par with Canadian dentists in terms of skill and knowledge?
DR ABBAS As I said before, we have the clinical advantage over Canadian dentists and dental students as in Pakistan we are afforded the freedom to experiment, as well as the acquisition of a wealth of clinical experience in our academic years thanks to the widespread population. This ultimately means that Pakistani dentists possess more and greater skills due to having more clinical practice under their belt. In terms of knowledge I would just like to mention that Canada has a lot of red tape in all forms – they tend to twist and slightly adjust things such as clinical techniques and medical and pharmaceutical values and quantities, for the specific purpose of being set apart from the rest. So anyone wishing to move to Canada to practice and learn dentistry must keep that in mind.
DN: What would be your advice to anyone who is currently in the process of moving to Canada for further education and to practice, and to those who are contemplating it?
DR ABBAS To all those students and dentists, I would firstly like to offer a reality check regarding further education. I would ask them to realign their thinking and remember that in the end, it’s about working. You will soon realise that your twenties are your most productive years, so start doing what you went to school for as soon as possible. Post-graduate education is more effective when done as a mature student.
If you’re thinking of moving to Canada, don’t forget to be mentally prepared for a cultural, academic, and professional shock, as things are different in the west than they are here. Before going, develop a few other skills so that you possess a diverse skillset. Not only will this set you apart from the competition but also help you in adjusting in the new environment and surviving the initial struggle phase. Do not pigeonhole yourself. Based on your intent to move to Canada, I would recommend that you be well-planned professionally and financially, as failing to plan means you’re planning to fail. Try to gain as much understanding of dentistry in Canada as possible; be open to other people’s advice, learn from other’s experiences and mistakes. Try not to experiment on your own as much, rather, take help, and keep learning, and trying to understand. Remember, the eye doesn’t see what the mind doesn’t know.