Dr Gulelala Azhar is one of Pakistan’s brightest upcoming dental stars. She is a graduate of the Islamic International Dental College, and went on to do her M.Med.SCI in Restorative Dentistry from the prestigious University of Sheffield’ UK. She is one of the few dentists of Pakistan who is now fully trained to work with CAD/CAM technology and is practising in a private dental practice in England with Cerec, Lasers and Microscope.
Q1 What made you do your masters from the UK?
UK has some of the topmost universities of the world for dentistry and it’s much closer in proximity to Pakistan then USA. I chose dentistry as a career out of sheer inspiration by my elder sister but it soon became a passion for me. I wanted to thrive in this profession and beef-up my game professionally and also considering the fact that there were so many new dental schools mushrooming around, I decided to go for a post-graduation from UK. My parents encouraged and motivated me to pursue a post graduate degree from UK to quench this desire for higher education. I applied in the clinical Masters at a few well renowned universities during my house job but only got admission in faculties of basic sciences as I did not have 2 years post-grad experience which is mandatory. And since I was more interested in improving my clinical skills and learning advanced clinical techniques I waited another year and eventually got admission in University of Sheffield which was at the top in UK that year according to Times ranking of the International Dental Universities. Alhumdullilah, I consider myself very lucky to have had this opportunity to come all the way to UK and study in this prestigious university under such esteemed and distinguished researchers and clinicians.
Q2 what difference did you see in the teaching system in Pakistan and the UK?
There is no doubt the teaching system in Pakistan is very different from UK in many aspects. The under-graduate teaching system is recovering in Pakistan in some facets such as pre-clinical and clinical rotations due to a large patient inflow, latest facilities and qualified teachers. I can speak for my institute, my Alma Mater, which has some of the most distinguished and excellent teachers, who trained us really well. But post-graduation in UK is a different ball game all together. Students are taught with an evidence based approach and encouraged to come up with novel ideas. The professors no matter how qualified or high up in the hierarchy, will never look down upon the students and will appreciate a new idea .They always encourage to critically analyze research articles against the gold standards and are always stimulating the students to think out of the box and improvise. This was one major difference that I felt and also in the journal clubs that were part of the master’s program we were made to critically analyze the study designs and I learnt so much more from ‘just’ that. The post-grad student in UK are under constant mentoring and are provided with fully equipped research labs and easy access to full-text articles and Cochrane collaboration. I have no doubt in my mind that if the same resources are provided in Pakistan, we can certainly train skilled and distinguished clinicians. Lastly the non-plagiarized dissertation and research system in UK should be implemented in Pakistan as well. Unfortunately in Pakistan the dissertation and research is not taken seriously the way it is in the foreign universities and one can easily get away with a substandard thesis/research at times.
Q3 what were your inherent fears when applying for the program?
They say and I quote ‘’ to fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another. ~Katherine Paterson “
The foremost fear was not been able to get into a clinical masters program from a university of my choice but Allah has been too kind to me, I went out there, delivered as much as I could and came back successful. The other more daunting and petrifying fear was failing to deliver the standards I had set for myself and make a mark. Overseas Pakistanis who are abroad studying, earning or simply living have a huge responsibility as they represent Pakistan in the international community .I wanted to be a good ambassador of Pakistan so I utilized every single minute to learn and gain something new and innovative. I remember when I joined the university, I was told that Pakistani students mostly follow heavy handed dentistry just like American students. I am glad by the time I was leaving, I learnt the art of “feather touch” and minimally invasive dentistry.
Q4 Why do you think its important for professionals from Pakistan to get foreign education?
The prime reason is the quality of education in the countries such as UK and USA. The professionalism, ethics and laws that they follow and the patient care they impart are things that need to be incorporated in every health care professional. Foreign education is the only way for the professionals to polish and improve their skills as unfortunately we lack all that in the health care education system in Pakistan. Moreover the resource materials, facilities and equipment in the foreign institutes is high-end and is essential to improve clinical skills and to learn the advancements in the field of innovative dentistry. It is very important for the professionals to leave their comfort zone and mingle with their international colleagues, as it will help in their overall personal growth and will widen the horizon for new opportunities.
Q5 What would be the best time for a student to plan a masters program and how should they plan the finances?
Well that varies from one person to another. For me, I started dreaming about doing a specialization right when I was in 3rd year of dental school. Students interested in enhancing their clinical skills need to have a 2 year post graduate clinical experience which is a mandatory for entry into any post-graduate program, so they need to plan accordingly. Students who are more interested in basic sciences can opt for it right after graduation. Finances is very important to be dealt with right from the start especially considering the fact they are escalating every year, so start planning and saving right from the dental school .My advice would be to ask your parents to invest in your education rather than anything else if they are affording it. This is what my parents did and their investment in my education was worth it. Looking for scholarships is another way but not many medical scholarships are available at the moment in Pakistan.
Q6: You cleared ORE and MFDS just within a year. Any suggestions for future candidates who are planning to take these exams. And why did you do MFDS after your Masters?
All you need to do is ‘focus’, focus and focus if you want to achieve your goal. That is what I did, I set a goal for myself that I either clear it in first attempt or waste a few years trying to pass.
For all those planning to move to UK for a better future or due to a spouse, study hard for 3 to 4 months and that should be it, before you attempt the ORE exam. And while you are at it, why not go for MFDS/MJDF? Getting membership of the prestigious Royal College (MFDS/MJDF) is something that everyone wishes to have. Especially dentists living here must aim for it, as priorities are given to the ones with MFDS/MJDF if there is a job vacancy.
Q7: You are working with CAD/CAM Technology these days, how do you think it changes the practice? Have you stopped sending impressions to the laboratory and rely on CAD/CAM altogether?
Yes the practice I am working in has CAD/CAM technology and it’s amazing to work with. We are using the CAD/CAM technology to provide patients with same-day ceramic crowns, veneers, onlays, inlays and bridges and also using it to fabricate abutments for dental implants. CAD/CAM restorations are better-fitting, more durable and natural looking and I have almost stopped sending impressions to the laboratory for single to 3-4 unit restorations or 3-4 unit bridges but for full mouth rehabs I still rely on the laboratory skills and technicians.
Q8: Are you brining courses from BARD to Pakistan? And When?
Yes I am working on it and it had to be postponed due to the current situation in Pakistan but it will be advertised very soon. The courses will be by Dr. Paul Tipton (who needs no introduction) under the BARD banner.
Q9: what would be your advice to the youngsters?
My advice for the youngsters is to not be a “frog in the well”. There are so many opportunities awaiting you so come out of your comfort zone and do not hesitate in grasping an opportunity of going abroad for higher education. Sky is the limit and this is what I have always told myself. Alhumdullilah the masters in Restorative Dentistry from the University of Sheffield helped me enhance my clinical skills colossally but I am still studying, as masters was just the first mile stone and it is a constant journey if you want excellence in your professional skills.