Interviews

Dr Sara Altamash attributes lack of faculty to bureaucratic wrangling, brain drain

By Our Reporter

UNFORTUNATELY, Pakistan is a country that suffers in a multitude of ways, which led to a severe shortage of qualified medical and dental professionals within the country, and Karachi being the most populous city, suffers the brunt of such a shortage, opined Dr Sara Altamash in an exclusive interview with Dental News.

Moreover, shortage of specialists in dentistry shows the undeniable importance of post-graduation and illustrates that there is a serious requirement of qualified specialists in Dentistry to serve a large and increasing population, she added.

Dr Sara Altamash is a dentist by profession and has been recognized as one of the leading Orthodontist in Karachi. Her parents also practice dentistry and opened Altamash Institute of Dental Medicine (AIDM) in Defence-Clifton, Karachi. She did BDS from University of Karachi in 2004, was declared  a Diplomat of the American Board of Orthodontics in 2013, received Master of Science degree in Oral Biology (MS) and a certificate in Orthodontics from School of Dental Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia in June, and  Doctorate of Dental Medicine (DMD) from Boston University in 2007, besides having the honour of becoming  the licensure of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Jersey State, USA Dental Boards ( July 2010, July 2007, June 2013) as well as of Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (December 2004).

At AIDM, where she is serving as Assistant Professor and Associate Orthodontist, had been supervising and providing comprehensive orthodontic treatment to children and adults, including phase I and phase II treatment since August 2014 till to-date. Similarly, during her association with the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, Philadelphia, USA, as a Clinical Associate Professor (July 2013 – August 2014), Dr Sara Altamash supervised and practiced Orthodontic treatment on patients of the dental school. Gave lectures to second and third-year dental students on cephalometrics, dentitional development, and orthodontic appliances. Provided hands on help to second-year dental students in the fabrication of various orthodontic appliances and participated in grading process of work completed by dental students.

Dr Sara also served Alliance Dental Specialties, Manahawkin, NJ, USA as Associate Orthodontist and at Dr. Sulaiman Al Habib Medical Group, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, she as a General Dentist practiced all aspects of general dentistry, including periodontal, restorative, surgical and pediatric procedures.

A recipient of David C. Hamilton Orthodontic Research Award by Pennsylvania Association of Orthodontists, she graduated on Dean’s List, got distinction in Pharmacology, Oral Pathology and Periodontology from University of Karachi.

She is a member of different national and international prestigious professional bodies such as College of Diplomates of American Board of Orthodontics, American Association of Orthodontists, American Dental Association and Pakistan Medical and Dental Council. Her extra-curricular activities include photography, music, yoga, cooking, international travels, etc.

In her exhaustive interview, she spoke at length on various issues relating to dentistry.

Excerpts from Dr Sara Altamash’s interview are as follows:

Q: Will you please tell us a little bit about your background, especially concerning the moment when you were like, “Oh! I want to be a dentist.” What was the deciding factor?

A: I was born and brought up in the vibrant cosmopolitan city of Karachi, where even at an early age I was exposed to the world of dentistry as both of my parents practice the profession. As I grew up in a family of dentists, obviously my inclination towards dentistry was not surprising because in our culture it is common to follow in our parents’ footsteps. My mother was an orthodontist and father is an oral surgeon, so I have been around the clinic. I like the profession as it is easy to work around, especially as women with a family life and kids. I saw my mother managing both the things also they were struggling and established themselves from scratch which was difficult for them, but then I thought choosing this profession will keep me a step ahead as everything was already setup and above all my parents were there to guide me. As I grew older, realized having good hand skills was a plus point for this profession. My  genetics are even programmed in such a way that I am little obsessive about doing things right and able to focus on doing one thing at a time so working on something for long span of time seems to be easy. I am good at arts, experimenting new thing and good at things which needs a lot of concentration. Being an above average science student, my academics even allowed me to choose this profession. I was never a rowdy child, was well behaved, did what my parents told me and considering both my parents were working all the time, I did fairly well. We have a mix background, my parents are from Peshawar, and they grew up there and then shifted to Karachi. My parents made it here without any family support, they were here alone, but with time everything was in order. Thus, through my early school years I closely watched my mother and father run their private practice in Karachi where due to my inquisitive nature and frequent visits to their clinic, my interest in dentistry blossomed.

Q: How influential and useful is it to have a Dental background while choosing Dentistry as a profession?

A: Any background in any field is helpful for any person, of course, it was helpful but having a background also has its own challenges, because you have to follow protocols which are already set and put in place, you have to follow systems that have been established by someone 20 years or 30 years ago and you have to try to mold it as per your requirement, education and personality. Dentistry itself is stressful profession, it has evolved over the years, it’s gone from nothing to something, but from 80s to 2000 you would see a big change in the way dentistry is viewed upon. So, I think it changed a lot and having a family member, who already had experienced it, is surely a great help. I have to acknowledge that it has been undeniably beneficial for me to come from a well-respected family of dentists who have given me an unbelievable amount of support, encouragement and guidance that has been very important for me to accomplish my goals over the years. However, it can be intimidating to live up to the expectations of patients or colleagues when they naturally compare me with my parents and expect me to measure up to the standards, established by them.

Q: When you first graduated from dental school, what was your vision for the dental career you wanted to have?

A: When I first graduated from dental school, I didn’t think would become orthodontist, I actually saw my mother working for late hours she would not come home before 7.30pm. I still remember the time as I used to wait for her. So, initially, I was never in favour of becoming an orthodontist. Soon after graduating, I decided that I needed to strengthen my knowledge and experience in general dentistry and this led me to Boston University where I successfully completed the Advanced Standing Program for Foreign Dentists and received the Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. My main goal was to practice and perfect my skills as a General Dentist. But, after working as a General Dentist in Saudia Arabia for a few years, I felt the need to increase my skill set in the field of Orthodontics because not only had I developed a liking for this discipline, but came to understand that there is an acute need for qualified specialists in Orthodontics to serve a growing population with a great number of patients with dentofacial discrepancies and irregularities, needing urgent dental care. Ortho is something which makes me smile every day or I would like to put this way it makes me sleep at night.I think I have done enough when it comes to education as I never thought will opt for specialization but with support of my family , my husband and all the guidance I achieved it.

Q: How important post-graduation is and what influenced you to go abroad?

A: It’s kind of sad, but I have to say that people are moving towards not like post-graduation, a lot of people prefer doing general dentistry because of expense and then later family pressures. Shortage of specialists in dentistry shows the undeniable importance of post-graduation and illustrates that there is a serious requirement of qualified specialists in Dentistry to serve a large and increasing population. It requires good quality specialist training to be able to practice proficiently and that is how I became interested in the Orthodontic program. It made me deeply interested in how we can considerably change the human face through growth, alteration or with orthognathic surgery and, therefore, I was interested in pursuing research in this field. I would suggest that one should do post-graduation to achieve professional satisfaction.

Q: How was your experience at the University of Pennsylvania?

A: My experience at the University of Pennsylvania was probably the best experience. I consider myself very fortunate to have had my Orthodontic training at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine where as an Orthodontic resident I gained a wide range of didactic and clinical experience. The first class education and learning environment provided by the institution and its faculty not only fulfilled my educational aspirations, but also allowed me to do so in an environment whose high standards and principles run in parallel with my own.

Q: What is your role in AIDM and what steps you have taken or plan to take for improving education standards?

A: Currently, I am teaching as an Assistant Professor at AIDM in the Department of Orthodontics and I practice Orthodontics in our private practice. Also, I am involved with the administration and I plan to help support the development of the postgraduate programs at AIDM and continue the collaboration with other institutes to produce well-trained undergraduates and postgraduates who can uplift the standard of dental care for the general public. I think we don’t have enough faculty over here as there are not enough qualified people. As a result people who have their own terms, timings to be a part of University, if I compared it to abroad, it is completely opposite, over there the faculty is huge. We lack faculty, the number of people PMDC is allowing is very less, even my own case is pending for the last two years. I totally understand they are under a lot of pressure too, but we need more post-graduates because that will put us in good shape. Another problem is brain drain, people move abroad because of reasons which actually make us have less qualified people. I think we can do it a lot better but as a team.

Q: You are star of the Sensodyne commercial, what prompted you to do it. Has it made any difference in your life? How is the experience to work along with Sensodyne to promote oral health? I would also like to know whether being an ambassador for any dental product helps the public or educational field in any way?

A: It is an honour to promote a quality product such as Sensodyne because the clinical experience of most dentists shows that it is an excellent product that has delivered predictable results for decades. It has been an enjoyable experience working with them and I have learnt a lot in the process. Being a part of the dental community, I feel it is our ethical responsibility to promote good quality dental products to help educate the general public and guide them in the right direction.

Q: What keeps you firmly rooted in orthodontics?

A: For me, the most interesting part of practicing Orthodontics is that it not only deals with moving teeth, but also with the control and modification of facial growth, which is dentofacial orthopedics. This can result in spectacular, beautiful smiles, enhanced dental health and an improved quality of life for people of all ages and that is the reason why I continue to enjoy my work as an Orthodontist and stay absolutely rooted in this profession. Apart from this, especially in Karachi, population is increasing and people don’t have money to spend when it comes to dental treatment. I am not only practicing this but doing lot of other things like marketing, post-graduation programs, but I think with time I have mellowed down because in Pakistan we have to be more calm and relaxed.  I am enjoying my orthodontics and I actually took over my mother’s patients. My parents not really interfere I am just taking their practice forward.

Q: Do you think you’ll still be interested in dentistry in 10 years? Why?

A: I will surely be interested, but I am moving more into business, have already planned it and got myself enrolled in business programs too. I think we should explore and learn everything no matter what it is. IT marketing development business in relation to dentistry is something I am planning to learn. Dentistry is more like hobby for me now.

Q: What do you think about Dental News?

A: Dental News is something I enjoy reading, it have a very good quality. It’s a great source of information for younger lot. People should come up and introduce themselves through this portal. I think by far it is one of the best as they tell us about courses, researches, and new things happening around in different colleges. It is neutral and helpful.

Q: Any message for the upcoming dentists?

A: Dentistry is an exciting career and presents many unique opportunities to treat and connect with patients. As a dentist, it is important to always remember to restore oral health and improve the lives of patients, shape the future of oral healthcare, practice creativity daily, work as a team player and offer benevolent care to every community.

June 11, 2015
Dental is part of the Medical News Group of publications which in 1968 became the pioneer of medical journalism in Pakistan. Medical News is the only periodical in Pakistan which has 3 simultaneous editions from Karachi, Islamabad and online.

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